A new $5 million sports stadium is moving forward in Lehighton Area School District.
The borough's zoning hearing board, after a brief executive session on Wednesday, agreed to grant the school district several variances to advance the stadium, which would be built between the high school and the administration office, near the existing field hockey and track site.
Of the variances granted, only one was not approved unanimously.
A section of the zoning ordinance lists a maximum building height of 2.5 stories and 35 feet. The height of the press box is listed at 45 feet.
The zoners approved the variance for a press box at 45 feet on a 2-1 vote, with board Chairman Randall Semmel opposed.
After the meeting, Semmel said he was opposed to the granting of that variance because the press box "would be the tallest thing in Lehighton, besides the high-rise, which was put in before zoning."
The district was represented by school board solicitor William Schwab, Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver, several members of the district's administration team, and several school board members.
Cleaver said the grandstands around the track presently hold about 600 people. The plan, he said, is to remove those grandstands and build new ones that could seat a maximum capacity of 2,500 people.
Cleaver said the district hosts five evening football games in a season, whereby the average attendance ranges from 1,800 to 2,500 people.
He said the district's recent graduation ceremony, which was held on June 13, attracted over 1,800 people.
The district is proposing a field house that would be used for all sports.
The district would have a student parking area, a home parking area, handicapped accessible parking area, and parking area for senior citizens.
Spots would be designated for buses for district athletes/students in the lower lot, as well as a separate area for visitors; and the plan would not add any traffic, but relieve congestion on the local streets.
"We will have a lot more parking, which is 100 times better, in my opinion," Cleaver said.
In addition to the district representatives, about a handful of residents attended the hearing.
Walter Putkowski, of Mahoning Township, said he did not think the project was wise financially from the time the stadium proposal was first pitched.
Putkowski then raised concerns about traffic control.
However, Cleaver said that sporting events have been held at the site, and that the only addition would be the five home football games.
Resident Thomas Wertman said he has traveled to many districts to watch high school football games, and noted that the only ones that do not have big grass parking lots are the inner-city schools.
"The parking situation now is a disaster when you do have a football game," Wertman said. "Where it's proposed, you would have less congestion; less of everything, than where it is now."
The district submitted an application for a zoning permit in March that was originally denied.
In his rejection letter, dated March 25, Bruce Steigerwalt, borough engineer and deputy zoning officer, said the district's zoning application was denied for the following reasons:
A section of the zoning ordinance, Educational Services, requires special use approval in the R-1 zoning district.
The zoning ordinance requires off-street parking spaces to be located on the same lot as the use to which they are accessory, or within a radius of 400 feet of the principal use served and within the same zoning district as the principal use.
Parking and loading areas must be surfaced with durable bituminous or concrete paving material, and shall be property graded and drained to dispose of all surface water. The proposed overflow grass parking area does not meet these requirements.
Adequate screening is required along the side and rear boundaries of any off-street parking or loading area for more than five vehicles which abuts a residential or institutional use, or along the boundaries of any other use where such screening is required.
Off-street parking and loading areas must have landscape screening along their external boundaries where they abut or are located within a residential district.
A stormwater management plan is required.
A look at the new stadium
A snapshot of the proposed Lehighton Area School District $5 million sports stadium:
Ÿ The new stadium will be built between the high school and the administration office, near the exisitng field hockey and track site.
Ÿ It would include new home and visitor grandstands with a seating capacity of 2,500; a new press box; a new field house structure; a new storage/restroom structure; new fencing to provide a secured site; new stadium lighting; a multipurpose turf field; and an ADA-accessible site.
Ÿ The new multipurpose stadium would replace the current football stadium located at Beaver Run Road and Mahoning Street in Lehighton, which was constructed in 1939-1940. The current stadium would remain on the property.
Ÿ In November, the school board approved Barry Isett & Associates Inc. to complete designs for the proposed multipurpose stadium at an estimated cost of $358,000. The building cost was estimated to be between $4.9 million and $5.6 million.
Ÿ The stadium could take two to three years to complete.