The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 3, 2014

Two firms pitch ideas for reuse of Lewisburg High School site

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Two firms presented two different ideas Thursday about how to proceed with the Lewisburg Area High School property, but there was a clear common thread: The committee charged with repurposing the seven-acre property needs to know what it wants before any real reuse plan can begin.

What the community wants plus having the financial structure in place to make a sustainable plan were among top advice from Bret Peters, community analyst and urban design specialist with AB3 Development Advisory, of Harrisburg.

The firm, which was behind revitalizing distressed properties on Mill Street in Danville, is offering to consult on the high school property for $15,000, or a third of its usual fee, Peters told the 21 members in attendance.

Peters said the community “needs to keep polishing the gem,” bringing out the fine points of the property for a developer while knowing how that would enhance the quality of life in the borough.

Proximity to Bucknell University and Lewisburg’s vibrant downtown are selling points, he said. The site is a natural for a professional incubator, a place where small and startup businesses could be housed while getting off the ground, he said.

The cost of renovating the property, however, “is higher than people think or want to believe,” Peters said. “You don’t want the project to be underfunded. ... You want to target development with the community in the background.”

Robert Lack, of RAL Architecture and Design Inc., Lewisburg, and his associates presented several examples of renovated historic properties the firm has overseen. The Deane Center in Wellsboro was a former commercial property that was turned into a performing arts center, and the Glenn Curtiss School in Hammondsport, N.Y., went from a 1935-era school to multifamily housing.

Lack said much depends on what the committee wants to do with the property after a new high school is built. “You have a lot of ideas, you need to facilitate those ideas,” he said.

The property isn’t permitted for large multifamily housing or “real intense” commercial use, he said.

The property “needs some salesmanship,” Lack told the committee, including creating a theme and perhaps a zoning overlay for what may go in that site at Routes 15 and 45.

“You can show images that upsell the project,” he said, “upsell and packaging.”

RAL offered to do a request for qualifications, then a request for proposals for the site for an $8,500 fee. Additional services, such as identifying potential stakeholders for the building and performing a more detailed analysis of the building and site, would run another $8,000 to $15,000, he said.

The Lewisburg school board recently approved spending as much as $15,000 for site consultant fees.