In another 5-4 vote, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board Wednesday night authorized selling the former Pittsburgh Schenley High School to a developer who plans to turn the historic Oakland building into luxury apartments.
The board, which had received four bids, voted to award the property for $5.2 million to PMC/Schenley HSB Associates LP, which is associated with PMC Property Group of Philadelphia.
After a spirited debate, voting yes were board members Theresa Colaizzi, Jean Fink, Sherry Hazuda, Bill Isler and Floyd McCrea. Voting no were board members Mark Brentley Sr., Regina Holley, Sharene Shealey and Thomas Sumpter.
An effort to table the motion failed on the same 5-4 vote as that for the sale of the school. There also was a 5-4 vote to close the popular and historic school in 2008.
When Schenley was closed, Ms. Hazuda was new on the board and opposed to closing it because of the passion of the student body for the school.
"Today we're in a different world. We're not getting the public funds we were. The political climate is pro-charter school," she said, noting the board has spent five years debating Schenley.
She noted that recent renovation estimates topped $50 million, not counting a new roof.
Ms. Fink said the taxes generated by the new development will be important but is concerned that local union labor is used for construction.
"I don't see how I can possibly not support the sale after all things have been considered, but I am praying these people are good to their word. They did say they would sit and talk about labor issues with our local unions," she said.
Ms. Colaizzi said the board won't get a better price than this. "I think it's time," she said.
Over the past five years, Ms. Colaizzi said the board has taken time to get more community input. "We haven't done any injustice in that sense. We've allowed everyone that wanted to put a bid in to put a bid in."
Mr. Sumpter, whose district includes Schenley, said he thinks the sales price is too low, the decision was being made too quickly and more long-range planning is needed.
"The question is sell or sell out," he said.
Ms. Holley questioned how much tax money the new use will generate, saying it is possible the owners could sell it to a university, which would make it a tax-exempt property.
She said the board lacked the correct information in making earlier decisions surrounding Schenley, adding, "I am not willing to give up this building, not just for the history but for what it means for the city to have our children in a school that they want to actually be in."
Mr. Brentley accused the board of dividing along racial lines. All of those voting in favor are white; those opposed are black. Mr. Brentley also said that the issue of asbestos abatement that was among the reasons the school closed was a "lie."
Mr. Brentley complimented Edward Alexei, who represented a group of Schenley alumni that bid $4.1 million to turn the school into a private tuition-based arts school, for being creative, saying, "We appreciate your ability to dream."
Mr. Alexei upped his offer to $5.3 million in a release Monday night although that was past the sealed bid deadline. He also offered to assist the district in getting financing to reopen it as a school.
PMC was the highest of four bidders and also scored the highest in the review process.
The sale includes the school, built in 1916, as well as the pool and gym addition built in 1988 on a 4.1-acre site by the Schenley Farms neighborhood.
PMC is planning a $36.9 million project which would include as many as 178 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments with about 50 inside parking spaces, 75 outside ones and some bicycle parking.
PMC's work will be governed by the requirements of the National Park Service so the project is eligible for historic tax credits. This will affect how much the width of the corridors can be altered, which may result in fewer apartments, Jerold Novick, executive vice president and general counsel of PMC Property Group, said in a public presentation last week.
The exterior would remain the same. There are no plans to use the auditorium, but it will be left intact. The addition would be kept although the pool likely wouldn't be used, according to PMC. The gym may become an amenity for residents.
The fate of Schenley has been controversial since it closed in 2008 on a split vote. Another 5-4 vote in September called for the district to seek bids to sell the school.
Even years after closing, some still would like to see it return to use as a school, charging that the cost of renovations have been overstated.
The district recently released two new estimates for renovations from engineering/architectural firms, $53.2 million by HHSDR and $59.4 million by Astorino. When discussing closing the school, then Superintendent Mark Roosevelt gave estimates ranging from about $64 million to about $80 million.
In addition to the arts school, which planned to be called the Andy Warhol School of Performing and Visual Arts, the other two bidders were Kossman Development Co. and Provident Charter School, which bid $4.6 million to use the building as a charter school and 115 units of housing for college students and young professionals; and Ralph A. Falbo Inc. and Beacon Communities Development, which bid $4 million and planned 123 apartments.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.