Panel backs plan for Schenley apartments

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The historic former Pittsburgh Schenley High School could become luxury apartments, if the school board agrees with a recommendation released Wednesday to sell the building to PMC/Schenley HSB Associates for $5.2 million.

PMC/Schenley HSB, which was the highest of four bidders, will give a public presentation on its plans at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 at board headquarters.

Its proposal calls for spending $36.9 million to create 175 luxury apartments with a fitness center. The existing gym would be used, but potential uses for the pool and auditorium would be determined later.

The school board, which is expected to vote Feb. 27, reserved the right to reject any and all bids.

The board will receive public comment at its regular hearing at 6 p.m. Feb. 25.

The potential sale has been controversial, including the 5-4 vote in September to market the building and solicit bids.

Last month, board members voted 6-3 to hire two firms to get an up-to-date estimate on the cost of renovating Schenley. Two firms, HHSDR and Astorino, have been hired, district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said.

In 2011, PMC Property Group of Philadelphia was the unsuccessful lone bidder for Schenley at $2 million. PMC entered the Downtown market in 2010, and its work includes 201 Stanwix Place, a reuse of the former Verizon building, for apartments and a charter school.

The recommendation was released by Fourth River Development, which the school district hired as the agent to handle the marketing and bidding of Schenley.

While PMC was the high bidder, the news release noted criteria considered included "price, commitment to community and district, time frame for development, limitation of risk, and the ability and capacity to complete proposed uses for the property."

The seven-member review panel included three employees of Fourth River -- John Watson, principal; Pat Morosetti, commercial sales and leasing agent; and Jerry Tullius, project consultant -- as well as Ronald Joseph from the school district's finance office; Janet Burkardt of the school solicitor's office; Norm Cleary, president of the Schenley Farms Civic Association; and Jason Matthews, CEO of W. Blazer Holdings and a member of the mayor's Equal Opportunity Review Commission.

The news release noted PMC had the "highest ranking," but Mr. Morosetti said the scores would not be released. He said price played a "significant part," but other aspects were important as well.

The other three proposals are:

• Kossman Development Co. and Provident Charter School, $4.6 million -- Their $36.8-million proposal includes 115 units of housing for college students and young professionals as well as a charter school for 336 dyslexic children in grades 2-8. The gym would stay, but the pool would be filled in and possibly used as a cafeteria.

• AWSVPA/Edward Alexei, $4.1 million -- This plan, expected to cost more than $25 million, would turn the building into the Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts for up to 1,000 high school students. Planned by a group of Schenley alumni including Mr. Alexei, the tuition-based school would have four tracks: animation, film and audio production, game development and performing arts. A nonprofit would be formed to operate it.

• Ralph A. Falbo Inc. and Beacon Communities Development, $4 million -- Their $32 million plan calls for 123 market-rate apartments. The gym and pool addition would be demolished. Auditorium use is to be determined. Mr. Falbo is a Schenley graduate.

After the recommendation was announced, Kossman Development president Curtis Kossman said he was disappointed that the "planned school for children with dyslexia really wasn't viewed as being more important to the benefit of the greater Pittsburgh area and the children in the city of Pittsburgh than the monetary consideration."

He wished the recommended developer well and said supporters of the school for dyslexic children will work to find another location in the city or in the North Hills. The charter school has been in the planning for about two years and was turned down in the North Hills School District.

"We will start a school," he said.

Mr. Alexei said, "It's a tremendous loss of opportunity to the community, and it's just a shame. ... We believe our proposal was in line with community wishes and the original intended use for the building."

Mr. Falbo said, "I just wish them all the luck in the world. I hope they do the job that the community wants done and the school board thinks should get done. They're a fine organization, and they've done a lot of work in Pittsburgh. ...

"I wish we would have been selected. You win some, you lose some."

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published February 7, 2013 5:00 AM


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