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Bethlehem zoning board approves variances for proposed middle school

By Mark Reccek, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 05 2014 10:02:47 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 06 2014 06:15:11 AM CST
Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Construction of the new Nitschmann Middle School, 836 10th Ave., is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board approved an appeal filed by the Bethlehem Area School District for variances for the construction of the new middle school Wednesday evening by a vote of 4-0.

Variances sought by BASD and approved by the zoning board included 15 signs, one of which will be an LED sign.

Project engineer Arif Fazil, of D'Huy Engineering, Bethlehem, told the zoning board the school district spent a considerable amount of time studying various options for the new middle school, with the end goal of ensuring the new building keeps with the overall character of the area.

"The district's focus has been to maintain neighborhood schools," he said. "The board of school directors decided Nitschmann should remain where it is, on the same site."

Robin Breslin, of Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, Allentown, ensured the zoning board the new school will not negatively impact the neighborhood.

According to Breslin, a variance of 15 feet with a five foot setback and an eight foot fence is needed for safety and construction reasons.

"It's going to be difficult to get construction vehicles in while the school is being built," he said.

Engineer Terry DeGroot, of Terraform Engineering, LLC, Bethlehem, said the old middle school will be replaced by football, softball and soccer fields. DeGroot said the eight foot fence will keep students and citizens from falling off the retaining walls and keep sports balls inside the parameter of the playing fields. The fence is expected to span the entire area of the fields.

Stephen Mayer, of 1004 W. Union Blvd., who lives on the corner of the current middle school, told the board the school district has been very receptive to resident's concerns since the inception of the project.

Mayer said he is looking forward to the new school being built.

"We are very pleased the middle school will be remaining in the city as a neighborhood school," added Tracy Samuelson, of the Bethlehem Planning Bureau.

Last year, the BASD approved construction of new middle school.

Once construction begins, students will continue to use the current middle school building, located at 909 W. Union Blvd., for classes while the new structure is built.

After the new building is complete, the old building will be knocked down and replaced with sports fields.

During the meeting, the board also approved Warren Share's request for variances to establish a residential unit at 1413 Luther St.