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Land development plan for new Bethlehem charter school location passes final examination

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jul 11 2013 10:15:10 PM CDT
Bethlehem Planning Commission
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A land development plan for a Bethlehem charter school's new location passed its final exam with flying colors Thursday afternoon.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission enthusiastically voted 3-0 to approve the plan submitted by the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts for 321 East 3rd St., after discussing a traffic impact study that delayed a decision last month.

Commission chairman James Fiorentino and commission member Andrew Twiggar both said before the vote they were satisfied and impressed with the study done for proponents of the $27 million three-story high school.

Because the traffic impact study had yet to be completed on June 13, planners decided to table the charter school's plan, despite pleas from school director Diane LaBelle and other project officials.

The planners said they wanted to be sure there would be adequate parking for 54 faculty members as well as about 50 students expected to drive to school; that about two dozen buses could arrive from 7 to 7:45 a.m. and depart from 2 to 2:40 p.m. without causing congestion, and that students could safely cross East 3rd Street.

The planners' concerns were answered Thursday after hearing for about a half-hour from project engineer Bryan Ritter; Susan Vierheilig, the school's director of transportation, and Walter Lublanecki, who did the traffic impact study.

Vierheilig assured the planners that the school will have a staff member to guide students crossing at East 3rd and Polk streets and at Columbia and Polk streets, and when she was asked if buses could be loaded and unloaded behind the school, she replied, "The buses will do what I tell them to do."

Lublanecki said the "controlled crossing" at East 3rd and Polk streets "is almost a perfect fit. The peak hours for school are different from the peak hours for the roadway. … [The crossing] will have minimal impact, and is very safe."

The planners' vote was applauded by the 50 or so people in the city hall rotunda, prompting Fiorentino to wonder if the reaction was because the decision involved the performing arts. "We never get a round of applause," he remarked impishly.

The charter school, which has operated in leased space at 675 East Broad St. since 2003, intends to relocate to East 3rd Street for the 2014-2015 school year.

Five lots will be merged into one so the new school can be built, according to the land development plan.

Ground was broken for the school on June 7.