Schenley set to reopen as high-end apartment building
April 3, 2017 12:00 AM
The exterior front of the former Schenley High School. The Oakland building, which once housed students and classrooms, will now be home to resident and luxury apartments.
A living room inside a one-bedroom unit.
A view of a loft apartment at the Schenley Apartments in Oakland.
The high school's former gymnasium has been renovated to include a fitness center and basketball and bocce courts.
A a bedroom inside one of the loft units at the Schenley Apartments in Oakland.
A kitchen inside a one-bedroom unit at Schenley Apartments in Oakland.
The former Schenley High School gymnasium has been made into a a fitness center with basketball and bocce courts.
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are few people with fonder memories of high school than James Hill.
One of Schenley’s last graduates, Mr. Hill, a special assistant to Mayor Bill Peduto, helped salvage artifacts from his beloved alma mater and amassed a collection of his own memorabilia. And he really means it when he says he’s “always happy to talk about Schenley.”
As workers put the finishing touches on the 180 luxury apartments at the former school in Oakland, he won’t be signing a lease — but it’s not for lack of interest.
“I would love to one day live at Schenley. Truth be told, as a young adult making his way, [it’s] a little out of my price range,” said Mr. Hill, 23. Plus, he concedes, he can only take so much ribbing from friends and former teachers. “I feel like that would earn me the title of America’s greatest high school hang around.”
PMC Property Group of Philadelphia has begun leasing loft, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments at the old Schenley High School, set to open in July with a movie theater, fitness center, on-site parking and other amenities. Construction costs to repurpose the school into units totaled about $28 million. To qualify for historic tax credits, PMC’s work was governed by the requirements of the National Park Service, which helped to preserve many of the original features of the building, said PMC senior vice president Louise Giordano.
“We're keeping a lot of original amenities,” including most of the wood classroom floors, chalkboards, parts of the gym floor, stairwells and some classroom doors, she said. “They will be pleasantly surprised.” The building’s exterior will look the same.
Rental costs vary, but apartments with one bedroom and one bathroom start at $1,295 a month and two-bedroom, two bathroom units start at $1,995.
The project has reignited old tensions over the school in some circles, though, which have dovetailed with recent debates about the need for more affordable housing in the city. Many on social media have decried it as yet another example of thoughtless urban renewal, especially brazen in a building praised for being a model of what worked in urban education.
“More gentrification!” Stephan Broadus, assistant to the publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier, wrote on Facebook.
A bedroom inside one of the loft units at the Schenley Apartments in Oakland. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
He declined an interview. Chris Ivey, an award-winning filmmaker whose “East of Liberty” documentary series examined redevelopment in that neighborhood observed: “When it gets reconverted into luxury lots that nobody can dream to afford it, that’s where the frustration and anger come in.”
Ms. Giordano said PMC had no comment on such remarks. Mr. Hill noted that PMC was “far away from the city when all the drama was happening.”
“PMC doesn't do affordable housing,” he said. “As business people they made a business decision.”
The majestic limestone building, constructed in the shape of a triangle in 1916, closed in 2008 amid concerns about asbestos and other issues estimated to cost up to $85 million to fix. In his praise of Jake Oresick’s new book, “The Schenley Experiment: A Social History of Pittsburgh’s First Public High School,” Laurence Glasco, a University of Pittsburgh professor wrote that “the list of alumni — black and white — reads like a who’s who of black and white Pittsburgh.”
“In an era of rampant discrimination and segregation, Schenley’s racial and ethnic diversity was stunning,” wrote Mr. Glasco, also editor of “The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh,”
In 2013, PMC/Schenley HSB Associates LP, which is affiliated with PMC Property Group, bid $5.2 million for the shuttered school. It marks PMC’s seventh complex in Pittsburgh.
Ms. Giordano wouldn’t say how much it cost to remove the asbestos. Sean Beasley, principal at Strada Architecture LLC, which worked with PMC on the project, couldn’t be reached but told Next Pittsburgh there was “a substantial amount of abatement.” One of the architectural designers working on the project is I-Shan Tam, herself a Schenley graduate.
Mr. Hill said he hasn’t been inside the repurposed building yet, but he’s bracing for an emotional circuit around its halls.
“I’m not sure I’ll survive the walk-through,” he said, laughing. “It’ll be very surreal.”
A more detailed look at the units will be featured in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Molly Born: email@example.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @molly_born.
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