Rydal Meadowbrook Civic Assn board was invited to join a meeting with immediate neighbors of Penn State Abington College for a planning meeting for a possible new academic building on the campus. Dr. Damian Fernandez, the Chancellor, presented the rationale for the new building. The per-student square feet of space is far below the average for four-year satellite campuses of Penn State. (74 sq ft per student compared to the average of 134 sq ft.) Enrollment at the college has declined slightly over the last few years from a high of 3966 to about 3400 today. There are more full-time students in the mix today and about 200 nursing students don’t use the campus for classes.
A review of existing buildings and potential sites for the new building resulted in the conclusion that one of the older and out of code buildings will be replaced with a new academic building to consist of classrooms, special learning spaces, and faculty offices. Architechs at the meeting presented preliminary exterior design and an extensive initial landscape plan to screen views of the building from neighbors.
The college has also conducted a traffic study and summary results were followed with a general Q&A. About 75-80% of students drive to the college parking onsite or at offsite lots. Offsite lot and SEPTA riders use shuttles to arrive on campus. The college operates 6 shuttles and 2 yellow buses, running about every half hour or more if there is demand. Peak travel times noted from attendees was 8:15 am while the study showed 9 am. Dr Fernandez also noted that class schedules are optimized for the use of classroom space and parking. A previous meeting held over a year ago included requests to reduce the number of cars circling looking for parking and the flows in any new design will try to relieve circulation issues.
As a first step, the college is planning to ask for a ‘map amendment’ for 3 properties the college owns inside Cloverly Lane (which includes two properties with home). They plan to request a zoning change from R1 to Community Service. They also plan to submit a text amendment to classify colleges separate from other educations institutions. The reason for this is the current zoning treats all CS schools the same including elementary, middle school and high school. The township has two colleges, Penn State Abington and Manor College that would be impacted by the text amendment. The college also plans to document and seek approval on their planned use of two residential properties the college owns on the outside of Cloverly Lane. These properties will remain R1 zoning. Those properties will face the proposed site of the academic building location and include a walkway through to Memorial Field.
The meeting included comments from Commissioner Kline who stepped attendees through the process of an ordinance review by the board of commissioners and then the planning commission meetings. Several concerns were raised by residents, in particular about construction traffic and calming measures for student traffic. Several suggestions offered by the neighbors and the college will respond as plans develop further.
Overall, RMCA is supporting the effort to ensure that Rydal-Meadowbrook residents are satisfied and that any accommodations needed to keep the character of our neighborhood while allowing for improved facilities at the college as a valuable community asset.
We will work to keep our members updated as more information becomes available. The presentation materials are not yet available for distribution. We anticipate there will be more meetings, both informal and formal, as the dialogue continues.