The Morning Call By Daryl Nerl

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Replacing Broughal approved

The Morning Call

By Daryl Nerl

November 10, 2006

The Bethlehem Planning Commission gave final approval Thursday to a plan to replace Broughal Middle School with a $43 million environmentally friendly school building, including athletic fields and an underground parking garage.
The commission heard, but ultimately decided against, three residents who pleaded to preserve the 91-year-old building that once served as South Bethlehem High School. Once the new building is completed, the school district intends to demolish Broughal, at 125 W. Packer Ave., and develop athletic fields in its place.

''To take a historic building and destroy it, in this town, is tantamount to treason,'' said Mary Pongracz, a South Side resident and activist. Also opposing the demolition were activists William Scheirer and Dana Grubb, a former city employee.

Scheirer held out the possibility that the building could be renovated and converted into an elementary school. He said the building is eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places and urged the commission to delay demolition approval, even if new building plans are approved. Demolition, Scheirer said, is at least two years away.
James Broughal, a city attorney working on behalf of the school district, argued against that proposal. The Bethlehem Area School Board has already weighed and rejected the idea of historic preservation and the state Department of Education would not look kindly on the idea of two schools at the same site, he said.

''If you restrict the demolition of the Broughal Middle School, the project cannot possibly go forward,'' Broughal said.

The Italian renaissance-style building was designed by locally prominent architect A.W. Leh, who also put his creative stamp on the Lehigh Valley Silk Mills building and three wards of St. Luke's Hospital, both in Fountain Hill; renovations to Charles Schwab's Bethlehem mansion; numerous Lehigh University buildings; and many schools and churches in Pennsylvania.
When the school district brought a sketch proposal of the new school before the commission in July, demolition was also opposed by Christine Ussler, the city's historic officer and consultant to the Historical Architecture Review Board. The building lies a block outside of the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation District, which means it is not eligible for city historical review.
M. Arif Fazil, the school district's chief engineer, said there are plans to pay homage to the school's signature double-arched main entrance in a plaza entry to the new athletic fields. If possible, the district will preserve some of the original architecture, Fazil said.
The new building is planned to specialize in teaching science and technology to about 900 middle school children. The district plans to pursue certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design program, which has been bestowed upon 33 Pennsylvania buildings, including the Plaza at PPL Center in Allentown.
The design incorporates several environmentally friendly and energy-saving features such as open glass atriums to foster the use of natural light and sparse use of windows along the western wall to mitigate the effects of weather. There are also plans to capture rainwater on the roof for use in toilets and to irrigate the athletic fields from what is trapped in storm-water collection basins, Fazil said.
Copyright © 2006 The Morning Call, All Rights Reserved.

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