Controversy swirls around Schenley High sale

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Two new estimates put the cost of renovating the former Pittsburgh Schenley High School at nearly $53.2 million and $59.4 million, but they haven't quieted the controversy.

School board member Regina Holley, who made the motion for additional cost studies, said, "I'm going to work with some people, and we're going to go over those line item by line item. I'm not ready to say what we're going to say about it at this point."

Ever since the historic building in Oakland was closed in 2008, some Schenley supporters have argued the renovation estimates that then-Superintendent Mark Roosevelt used when recommending closing the school were too high.

Citing asbestos issues and other major repairs, Mr. Roosevelt gave estimates ranging from about $64 million to about $80 million.

The board last month received offers from four bidders to buy the building, but members voted to revisit the issue of how much a school renovation would cost by hiring two firms to make new estimates at a cost of about $17,000.

The board has reserved the right to reject any and all bids but is expected to vote Feb. 27.

A review panel has recommended a $5.2 million bid from PMC/Schenley HSB Associates, which will present its plans at 6 p.m. Monday at board headquarters in Oakland. PMC wants to spend $36.8 million to turn Schenley into luxury apartments.

In the reports released Friday by two architectural/engineering firms, HHSDR estimated Schenley renovation costs at nearly $53.2 million. Astorino put them at $59.4 million.

In its report, HHSDR estimated hazardous material abatement at $2.8 million, and Astorino put it at nearly $2.5 million.

Their full reports are available on the district website (www.pps.k12.pa.us) by clicking on the surplus properties button on the home page and then on Schenley in the left blue box.

The reports have information on the scope of work, which includes providing full air conditioning.

Edward Alexei, part of a group of Schenley alumni that bid $4.1 million to buy the building and turn it into the private Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts, questioned the estimates.

Based on estimates the group obtained for its bid, he said renovation "could be done, depending on the options, for between $11 million and $16 million."

Board member Mark Brentley Sr., who opposed closing Schenley, criticized the process, saying the information should have been presented in detail to the board at a meeting.

He viewed the way the information was released as "a scare tactic."

School board president Sharene Shealey said the board will have to decide, but she said personally, "I just don't believe the district -- in light of us having laid off teachers, cut administrative staff and facing a budget crisis in fiscal 2015 -- I just can't justify spending $60 million on a building."

District officials estimate the district will run out of money in 2015 at the current spending pace.

In a news release, school superintendent Linda Lane said, "We understand why the alumni of Schenley High School have such a great passion for the school.

"While we too love the beautiful Schenley facility and wish we could afford the renovations necessary to maintain the landmark building, we must balance the need to resolve a very concerning financial future in the context of our need to accelerate the academic achievement of all students."

education - neigh_city

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


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