Pittsburgh Public Schools board votes to sell former Pittsburgh Schenley High School

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In a controversial 5-4 vote tonight, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board has decided to sell 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.

PMC was the highest of four bidders and also scored the highest in the review process.

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 places, 75 outside ones and some bicycle parking.

The fate of Schenley has been controversial since it closed in 2008 on a 5-4 vote. Another 5-4 vote in September called for the district to seek bids to sell the school.

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 renovation 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.

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 sale includes 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.

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. The gym may become an amenity for residents.

One of the other three bidders still was fighting for its proposal this week.

At the board's public hearing Monday, Edward Alexei, representing AWSVPA -- Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts -- distributed a paper on which he criticized the process and offered two other options, one calling for the board to let AWSVPA purchase the school for $5.3 million. In the sealed bidding process, AWSVPA bid $4.1 million.

He also said that if the board didn't sell the building, the group "is willing to work with the school board to secure financing for the remodeling, as well as the first-year operational budget" at a low rate "secured by private and institutional investors."

"We are prepared to provide financing for the remodel of Schenley independent of the school board budget should the board make themselves available to that option," Mr. Alexei said in an email.

Its bid proposal and the Monday night release estimated 1,000 students would attend the tuition-based school. The Monday night release also said its curriculum could attract 2,000 to 3,000 tuition-paying online students outside the area paying $4,900 to $5,500 a year, which "could provide a sustainable source of budgetary surplus for the PPS fund balance."

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.

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


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