Forget about the senior play. The first drama to hit the new Unionville High School auditorium features the building itself.

East Marlborough Township says the 58-foot-high, $3.6 million structure violates the municipality's zoning code, which limits most construction heights to 35 feet.

As it stands, the building can't be occupied until the dispute is settled.

East Marlborough sent the school district a notice of violation early last month, after the exterior was completed, according to Township Manager Jane R. Laslo, who is also the township zoning officer.

"We noticed it was going high" while under construction, she said, adding that she brought up her concerns in informal meetings with school officials over the last several months.

According to Laslo, the district submitted a development document that listed the height of the then-proposed building at 35 feet. The township was flabbergasted when the building turned out almost 25 feet higher.

The district counters that the actual planned height was included in other planning documents submitted to the township and was discussed at meetings with township officials.

It contends it has done nothing wrong.

Laslo said the township wasn't demanding that the district tear down the auditorium - it's part of a $51 million renovation project at the school, which was built in 1959.

She said officials want the district to get a zoning variance to legitimize the structure. That requires an appeal to the township Zoning Hearing Board, which is independent of the township administration.

"In that perfect world, it would have been better if all of this had been handled before the construction started," she said. "That's the rub."

District Superintendent Sharon Parker said she was surprised when the township brought up the issue a few months ago "given the number of meetings we've had to discuss so many elements of this process."

At this point, the district doesn't think the building violates the zoning code, district solicitor John R. Merrick said.

In its appeal to the zoning board, the district argues that Laslo interpreted the code incorrectly: It allows buildings to be up to 35 feet or three stories high.

Though the auditorium exceeds 35 feet, the district argues that it's only one story high because an open space extends from the floor to the top of the roof beams.

The district also says it had a vested right under state law to erect the structure because of the building permit the township issued for the renovations.

Once that permit was issued, even if it was issued mistakenly, the township lost the right to stop construction, the district contends.

If those arguments fail, the district contends it has grounds for a variance because it can't fit the auditorium stage into a lower building.

Merrick acknowledged that the district mistakenly gave the township a document in 2008 listing the building height at 35 feet, but said the district had since had many other meetings with the township in which the actual height was discussed.

The building permit, according to the district's appeal, correctly lists an auditorium height of 58 feet.

The dispute doesn't worry the high school parent teacher organization.

Recording secretary Carol Apicella thinks things will be resolved quickly and remains excited about the renovations, though she wished the township had raised its objections earlier.

In addition to the auditorium, the renovations include increased classroom space, an improved cafeteria, and a new gymnasium.

The school was originally built for about 800 students, Apicella said. It currently serves 1,400, and the renovations will increase capacity to 1,600.

"The building looks great," she said.

Contact staff writer Anthony Campisi at 215-854-5015 or acampisi@phillynews.com.