Reading Planners Check Out STEM High School Academy Proposal | Berks Regional News
READING, Pa. — The Reading Planning Commission got its first look Tuesday at plans for the new STEM High School academy proposed by the Reading School District on North Ninth Street.
The sketch plans do not require any approval but are the prelude to the preliminary and final plans, which must be approved by the planning commission.
The Reading School District has released plans for its new 95,000 square foot school on 2.42 acres at 801 N. Ninth St.
The site is within a commercial district zoning district, which permits a school by special exception from the Zoning Hearing Board.
Plans for the four-story building include 162 off-street parking spaces located in both a basement parking garage and on surface land.
The school is intended to accommodate 700 to 1,000 high school students who would benefit from being in a school that provides a career learning environment focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
District architects and engineers said Reading Senior High School had 3,500 students and the new school would reduce that number by 1,000 students.
The building will include a multimedia center, a gymnasium with changing rooms, a common area with a kitchen, laboratories, classrooms and special spaces dedicated to music and youth support.
This fall, project officials want to begin a cleanup of the existing site, which is the demolished Reading Outlet Center.
Planner William Cinfici, who is a former school board member, criticized the plan to remove valuable city assets from tax rolls.
“The Reading School District is one of the largest, if not the largest, landowners in the city, so it would be helpful at some point for the planning commission to understand what the vision for all of its properties is,” Cinfici said.
“I know that when I last served on the board in 2013, there were so many unused and underutilized facilities that I wanted to ask the administration to conduct a study on the amount used and unused,” he added.
Cinfici asked why the 17 acres on the site of the former Reading Jewish Community Center at 1700 City Line St. – now home to the City Line Learning Academy – could not have been considered.
“When I voted to acquire this property, we thought it might be valuable because 17 acres are available and they are already off the tax roll,” Cinfici said.
Wayne Gehris, the district’s chief financial officer, said when he joined the district in 2014, the administration launched an investigation into how the district could reduce overcrowding in its school buildings.
“The capacity of all of our buildings is updated every year,” he said, “and quite honestly, we’re at capacity or over capacity where you have the most effective learning environment. “
Gehris said the district decided to acquire the Ninth Street property when it became available because it is the area with the fastest growth in student enrollment.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, the planning commission also got to see plans for new construction at FirstEnergy Stadium.