Tenant seeks to work with Mars borough during land acquisition

February 6, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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MARS — Although many things must happen before the borough becomes the owner of the former Dutilh Methodist Church property, a current tenant has asked council to consider working with it moving forward.

Last month, council approved a resolution to purchase five parcels that make up the church campus at the corner of Pittsburgh Street and Lincoln Avenue. Council members discussed the need for additional space for borough offices as well as an expanded meeting area.

There also has been discussion on moving borough police operations to that site. The parcels — the church building, a home, an education building and two parking lots — would allow that to happen, officials said.

The plan was subject to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development's approval, and the borough also was working to secure funding for the purchase.

On Monday, Melissa Wyllie, director of special education at Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, said her organization uses the education building for classroom and office space. She said the organization does contracts from July 1 through June 30, and officials were concerned that they would be asked to leave mid-year.

Mike Fleming, council president, said that wouldn't be the case, as the borough likely won't take ownership until late spring or early summer. He said the borough wants to work with the Intermediate Unit.

“Whatever transition happens at whatever point, we fully intend to work with you guys well in advance,” he said. The Intermediate Unit serves students from the Mars and South Butler areas, and uses office space for 16 staff members and classroom space for those students. The organization has been in the Mars space for nearly 15 years.

Officials told council that the amount of square footage could be reduced, but the need for office space remains vital. This led to a conversation Monday about potential solutions, including moving classroom operations to the church building.

Fleming said the borough would keep the Intermediate Unit in mind as discussions continue. “I think there's probably a willingness on both sides of the fence to accommodate you as best we could,” Fleming said.

Chris Reese, borough solicitor, gave a project update. He said a firm number for the debt that will be taken on must be determined before the legal process can begin. He said the amount for the property is fairly solid, but setting a number for the cost of improvements, particularly for Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades, is harder to determine.

Once that is established, the borough must advertise taking on that debt, and ordinances must be passed. At that point, the borough can file with the state and begin the approval process.

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