Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vacant Schools Attract Interest Plans Being Drawn for Repurposing

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vacant Schools Attract Interest Plans Being Drawn for Repurposing

Article excerpt

Just a couple of years ago, Schaeffer Intermediate, Schaeffer Primary and Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh's West End were bustling with schoolchildren.

But now, after Pittsburgh Public Schools consolidated all students at Langley K-8, the sturdy brick buildings sit empty. And while they've gone unused, some have had their windows broken, their copper wiring stripped by thieves and are beginning to evolve from education centers to eyesores, said Councilwoman Theresa Kail- Smith, whose district includes the schools.

To reverse that trend, the councilwoman has asked the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh to study how the buildings might be reused, with residents and community groups pitching their own ideas. Last month, city council approved a $150,000 grant for the center to study the buildings. The shuttered Elizabeth Seton School, whose building is owned by the Catholic Diocese, is also part of the study.

Ms. Kail-Smith said she wants to see the buildings "repurposed for something that's viable for the community."

The center is studying a number of creative proposals for the buildings, including an indoor farm, a community hub for social services and an arts center. But there's still plenty that needs to fall into place before plans move forward. The district has yet to set a price for the buildings, which currently are being appraised.

Still, there's plenty of enthusiasm behind the proposals, which Ms. Kail-Smith hopes to harness, along with funding. She said she will seek help from the Urban Redevelopment Authority or the foundation community to purchase the buildings.

The Design Center, in addition to evaluating the feasibility of existing proposals, will determine what work needs to be done to make the buildings viable for a new owner.

Steve Glassman, executive director and president of the center, said there are plenty of challenges with repurposing schools. They include irregular spaces -- such as auditoriums and gyms -- outdated heating and air conditioning systems and lack of insulation. But many of these challenges are also opportunities, he said.

That could be the case for Stevens Elementary, a five-story building on Crucible Street. …

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