Harrison schedules hearing on project for senior homes in former Highlands administration building
The former Highlands School District administration building has become an eyesore.
There’s broken and boarded up windows, overgrown vegetation and the rotting remains of its sign.
“It doesn’t take long for a building to deteriorate when it’s not being used, especially an older building like that,” said Todd Stanzione, whose home of 25 years is just a few doors down on 11th Avenue.
Stanzione said he and many of his neighbors are fully supportive of a developer’s plans to use the building as housing for senior citizens. Harrison commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed $10 million project during their meeting starting at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the township municipal building.
“We’re happy to see something is going in there and it’s not going to become dilapidated like it is right now,” Stanzione said. “When a small part of the community goes down, it’s like a virus, it grows. We don’t want to see that happen in this area.”
It’s been about five years since the district moved its offices out of the 11th Avenue building, and it’s been empty ever since. The school board approved selling it in June 2014, and the sale was finalized in early 2015.
According to documentation filed with the township, Gatesburg Road Development of State College plans to put 30 units for senior citizens age 62 or older in the building. That’s down from 40 units when the project was before the township’s zoning hearing board earlier this year.
The project includes an addition at its back facing 10th Avenue that would double its size. Plans show a new entry on the California Avenue side of the building, with parking lots, walkways, a garden area, benches, trees and shrubs on the grounds.
The township’s zoning hearing board in June approved a variance to allow the development. The township’s planning commission this week recommended that commissioners approve the use.
Built in 1930, the building had been Riverview Elementary School until closing in 1980. It was later converted to house Highlands’ administrative offices.
The school board in June 2014 approved selling it to two Harrison residents, John Barch and Joseph Thimons, for $145,000. Together, they own it under a limited liability corporation, BTLV.
In 2015, township commissioners approved an amendment to the township’s zoning requested by Barch and Thimons that would allow a day care center in the building. The amendment included day care centers, commercial day care facilities, personal care homes, long-term facilities and senior living communities in former school buildings as conditional uses in the conservation zoning district.
Barch said his wife, Judy, has been running a day care, Brenna’s Place, in a modular building on the property since November 2015. It’s expected to stay there.
Barch said they found their initial plans to open a child care center on the first floor and an elder care facility upstairs more complex than they expected. The zoning in the otherwise residential area limits what can be done with the building, he said.
“A lot of what we wanted to do, we didn’t realize what the cost was going to be,” he said. “Plus all the hoops you have to jump through. It came to the point where it wasn’t feasible to do.”
Barch said they were referred to Gatesburg, formerly S&A Homes, and got in touch with them.
“They really like it. They think it’s a great project,” he said. “The township likes it. The neighbors like the idea of it. It’s going to be really, really nice. We’re just hoping it’s a go.”
A representative of Gatesburg did not respond to request for comment Thursday.
The sale of the building is contingent on the project being approved, Barch said.
If the conditional use is approved, the project would still need to have its land development plans reviewed and approved before construction could start.
If given full approval, officials previously said construction would start in 2019.
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.