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Questions about sidewalk delay McCandless’ vote on McKnight Elementary renovations

November 14, 2018

McCandless council has put off voting on the planned renovation and expansion of McKnight Elementary School until a payment the district will have to make in lieu of installing a sidewalk along Cumberland Road can be negotiated.

Council was scheduled to vote Oct. 22 on whether to approve the North Allegheny School District’s land development plan.

Questions about whether the town will require the district to follow the letter of the law and build the sidewalk came up during council’s Sept. 24 committee meeting when Rob Gaertner, North Allegheny’s facilities director, requested a waiver from the sidewalk requirement.

Council informed Gaertner that it has been the town’s policy for the past several years to not waive the sidewalk requirement because adding them is part of the town’s long-range plan to make the town more walkable.

Gaertner described the property on which the sidewalk would have to be installed as “unbuildable” -- or at the very least, cost prohibitive to construct -- because of the terrain. He previously estimated that excavating the hillside along Cumberland could spike the cost for a sidewalk to as much as $50 a square foot compared to the typical price of between $6 and $12 a square foot.

Town manager Toby Cordek agreed with the district’s difficulty fulfilling the sidewalk rule.

“It’s one of the most severe slopes to try to put a sidewalk in that we’ve ever encountered,” he said. “It would be extremely expensive.”

Gaertner also noted that even if the district is forced to build the sidewalk, it would be useless because there are no sidewalks on either side of the district’s property.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that its installation would likely not get the OK from the petroleum company that holds a right-of-way for the property.

Both Gaertner and members of council agreed that even if a sidewalk could be installed along Cumberland in front of the school it might not be such a good idea to encourage kids to walk along a road with such heavy motor vehicle traffic.

To ease the burden, the town has giving the school district the option of calculating the cost of building the sidewalk on flat land with no major obstacles and then placing that amount in a special fund set up to make capital improvements to the town’s transportation infrastructure, which includes sidewalks.

Council will vote to consider the building project once the amount the school district will have to kick in to the fund has been determined.

Since no formal law exists for McCandless to collect the so-called “in lieu of” payment, town officials plan to craft a measure that spells out when it is appropriate for such payments to be made.

Even without enancting the ordinance, the town’s solicitor has indicated that the “in lieu of” fee is legal.

The measure McCandless develops would likely be similar to a law Ross Township enacted last year that sets such rules. The money Ross collects from developers can be used for sidewalks as well as hiking and biking trails.

The district’s estimated $18.2 million for the McKnight Elementary project includes:Reconfiguration the area where parents drop off and pick up childrenRelocation of play areas to make room for a 5,400-square-foot addition to house art classroomsImprovements to the loading dock areaThe addition of a canopy over the main entranceRelocation of classrooms, modifying existing spaces and converting the old history area into classrooms.New roof, windows and doors

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