‘Tall tale’ saga continues: no ruling on HS aud. variance

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E. Marlborough Zoning Hearing Board wants written confirmation from fire companies on ability to cope with 58-foot building height; no impact seen on opening of school year

There won't be any resolution to the dispute over the height of the new auditorium at Unionville High School until September at the earliest, but officials say that the building can still be used for the start of the school year on Aug. 29.

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The “tall tale” saga will drag on for at least another month as the township’s Zoning Hearing Board Monday told the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and township officials that it would not rule on a variance request for the new high school auditorium until it had input in writing from local fire companies assessing their ability to fight fires at the 58-foot structure — but it shouldn’t interfere with the opening of the new school year.

The district asked for another 30 days to produce such documentation — from the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company (the primary responder) and the Longwood Fire Company — and now a second continuance of the hearing is expected to be held on Sept. 6.

The delay is not expected to impact the start of school — scheduled for Aug. 29 — according to district spokesperson Rich Hug. Hug said that the district has a conditional certificate of occupancy that would allow use of the new auditorium and adjoining renovated areas of the school until the issue is resolved.

Little has changed since the hearing of July 7 on the matter — after it appeared that the township and the school district had reached a deal on the height of the new high school auditorium, a 58-foot structure in a zone township officials say only permits a building height of 35 feet. While school officials disagree with that interpretation of the zoning ordinance, both sides agreed to support the district seeking a variance for the building height before the Zoning Hearing Board.

But without the written sign off from the fire companies, ZHB members said they felt they could not rule on the variance application.

“The record is not complete” ZHB chairman Thomas Simpers said. “We have no written confirmation from the local fire companies as to their ability to handle the height of the building. We would like to know if at least one of the local fire companies can handle an emergency at the building.”

Although there was some transmission of information regarding fire safety from the district to the ZHB, members were pretty specific about wanting a formal sign off from the local companies — at least one of them — that they had the proper equipment to fight a fire at the height of the building, not just to protect those who might be in the building, but potentially local volunteer firefighters.

The current ordinances and height restrictions were designed around what had been the maximum height local fire companies could safely fight fires, board members said. Larger equipment and newer technologies have come on line in recent years to expand that capacity — but the board said they wanted assurances in writing from the fire companies that the 58-foot building would not represent a hazard.

The board also asked the township to better explain some of the conditions it has asked for on the variance — conditions the district has already agreed to abide by — before it is ready to finalize the variance, assuming that the fire protection issue is resolved.

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