19 Pittsburgh public schools to go up for sale

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"For sale" signs will be going up on 19 closed Pittsburgh Public Schools buildings, the next step in discovering whether buyers are interested or whether the buildings will be donated, demolished or "mothballed" in case enrollment picks up.

At a school board committee meeting Tuesday, Fourth River Development, which was hired last year as the real estate agent for the district, recommended trying to sell 19 of 20 closed buildings. One building, Knoxville, would be kept as a warehouse.

Fourth River also raised the question of whether the board's headquarters in Oakland should be sold, and board member Regina Holley suggested considering whether some of the space could be leased instead.

No decisions have been made nor any formal offers received, but the board is looking for ways to save money as it expects to run out of money in 2016 unless it changes course. The 20 closed buildings combined have a debt of $9.15 million and an annual operating cost of $681,850. If a building is sold to a for-profit entity, the outstanding debt must be paid upon sale.

The three with the largest debt are Northview in Northview Heights, $1.96 million; Fort Pitt in Garfield, $1.86 million; and Belmar in Homewood, $1.34 million.

Buildings are usually sold for at least their amount of debt, but Fourth River representatives indicated some buildings may not be able to attract bids that high.

All 19 closed school buildings will be marketed, but Fourth River's proposal lists four as prospects for donation or demolition: Beltzhoover, Gladstone in Hazelwood, Rogers in Garfield and Belmar.

In most cases, Fourth River recommended a negotiated sale, which requires three appraisals. This approach includes the "high interest" properties of McCleary in Lawrenceville, Morningside, Columbus on the North Side and Burgwin in Hazelwood.

Pat Morosetti, sales and leasing manager for Fourth River, said some groups have toured Burgwin, one for a charter school, another that hasn't established a use and a third with a "specialized use."

He said Propel, a charter school organization, has expressed interest in purchasing Columbus, which it currently rents for Propel Northside.

As for Morningside and McCleary, he said some have expressed interest in residential use, an incubation facility and various community uses. He said one idea for McCleary was a boutique hotel.

Other properties recommended for negotiated sale are divided into three groups.

The first, with a timeline beginning in October this year, are Northview, Bon Air, Madison in the Hill District and old Homewood schools.

The second group's timeline starts in February 2014 and includes McNaugher in Perry South, Sheraden, Schaeffer in Crafton Heights and Murray in Mount Oliver.

The third group, which has a timeline beginning in July 2014, includes Mann in Marshall-Shadeland, Stevens in Elliott and Fort Pitt in Garfield.

The properties are featured on the district and Fourth River websites.

"We have fielded dozens of calls," said Mr. Morosetti.

Fourth River pledged to work with community groups.

Some of the sites are adjacent to property owned by the city or the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh, and some noted the importance of coordination.

There are various unresolved issues, including whether the board would want to save any of the buildings for future use.

After the meeting, school board President Sharene Shealey said she thought the meeting was a good start, but "we really need to understand the process better, who's actually interested and see what kind of dollars it will bring into the district."

education - neigh_city

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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