Schenley building removed from insurance, 2 others added

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About six months after being closed, the historic Schenley High School building is empty, the city school district has no stated plan for it, and officials have removed the structure from the district's commercial property insurance policy.

It all translates into more frustration for parents and other school supporters who lost a months-long battle to keep the Oakland building open.

"I don't trust them to take care of the building," Regent Square resident Barbara Daly Danko said of Pittsburgh Public Schools officials.

When it voted 5-4 to close the building in June, the school board also decided to form a committee to study future uses for the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

So far, the committee hasn't been assembled.

Kathy Fine, a Highland Park resident and Schenley supporter, said "it's very disappointing and very frustrating that a building of Schenley's caliber would just be left like that."

She said she'd like to know what district officials plan for the building. "Are they getting ready to sell it?"

School board member Heather Arnet partly blamed the delay in establishing the committee on a crush of other projects, such as a search for a permanent home for the district's new International Baccalaureate school.

Ms. Arnet said she hopes the Schenley committee will begin work after Jan. 1. She said she wants the group to study possible uses for the district, community groups and private interests.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt asked the board to close the building, saying the district couldn't afford more than $80 million to remediate asbestos and address other maintenance issues. Some Schenley supporters believe the district exaggerated the asbestos problem and renovation costs.

Schenley's remaining students--this school year's 10th-, 11th, and 12th-graders--were relocated to the Reizenstein building in Shadyside. The school accepted no freshmen this school year.

Last month, the group Preservation Pennsylvania named Schenley to a list of endangered historic resources. Also last month, the school board removed Schenley from a list of about 15 buildings covered by a commercial property insurance policy with Continental Casualty Co.

The board approved the policy, costing up to about $169,000, in January.

On Nov. 23, the board dropped the Schenley building and added the Reizenstein and Milliones buildings for an additional $12,400. Milliones, in the Hill District, was closed in 2006 but reopened this school year to house the new university-partnership school.

The district has more than $3.3 million in a self-insurance fund that it uses to protect buildings against fire and other major losses. Chief Financial Officer Christopher Berdnik said the district uses the commercial policy to provide additional coverage on buildings that would be especially expensive or difficult to replace.

Mr. Berdnik said Schenley was dropped from the policy for financial reasons.

"How can I justify spending money to insure a building kids are not attending? Resources are not infinite," he said, noting the building is still covered through the self-insurance fund and still protected by electronic fire and security systems.

In addition, the district maintains commercial boiler insurance on Schenley and other buildings.

Eric M. Goldberg, associate general counsel and manager of state programs for the American Insurance Association, said organizations use multiple strategies for covering large numbers of buildings.

Some organizations, he said, are entirely self-insured. "I think the federal government would be a good example of that," he said.

Mr. Berdnik said the insurance change doesn't represent an abandonment of the Schenley building.

"There is no hidden message being sent about Schenley," he said. "Absolutely none. Zero. Zilch."


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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