Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Lightning-struck Allegheny Carnegie Library could be ready to reopen as part of Children's Museum in 2018
April 10, 2017 12:00 AM
A new Allegheny Carnegie Library branch was built on Federal Street in Allegheny Center.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Eleven years ago, the granite finial of the clock tower atop the historic Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library took a lightning bolt and plunged through the roof, forcing the library to close.
At the time, the “indefinitely” sounded like “definitely,” which it was, and preservationist North Siders lamented the library board’s decision to abandon the structure, which dates to when the North Side was Allegheny City.
But time, and rebirth, heals wounds.
A lovely new Allegheny library branch was built on Federal Street, and the empty Romanesque gem in Allegheny Center will probably begin jumping with new life during the 2018-19 school year.
The Children’s Museum has raised one-third of the $18 million it needs — $10 million of that to renovate and retrofit the historic building — for an expansion that would enhance the North Side’s growing reputation as a destination maker.
The first floor of the old library would become a laboratory large enough for older children and young adults to build and design collaboratively — with mentors — using technology, multimedia and traditional equipment such as sewing machines, said Chris Cieslak, project director.
Proposed as Makeshop +, the area would be used for workshops and camps and for teachers who want to incorporate manufacturing into their curriculum, she said.
The second floor would become the permanent home of the Manchester Academic Charter Middle School, which grew too big in Manchester — where the elementary charter remains — and has been a guest in recent years at the Sarah Heinz House, a youth enrichment and community center.
“We’re excited about this,” said Dennis Henderson, the school’s educational director. “Working with the Children’s Museum gives us an opportunity to explore learning beyond the traditional and to give students opportunities to exhibit and get access to resources.”
Ms. Cieslak said the Children’s Museum and its partnerships are establishing a large cultural campus for children with great potential.
“The charter school can experiment using our resources, and we can study the impact,” she said. “We are limited in knowing how effective an exhibit can be when kids are only here for two to three hours at a time.”
Charter school students would be a consistent cohort of learners and a bridge between the school’s formal and the museum’s informal learning methods. The museum could help establish a national model for a curriculum maker, Ms. Cieslak said.
Of the money being raised, $5 million would establish a capital growth fund to sustain itself with revenues the museum earns renting out exhibits, she said. Funding for the entire project is coming from foundations, some corporations and individuals, Ms. Cieslak said.
Organizations that live in the museum — including the “Saturday Light Brigade” radio show, Allies for Children, and Reading is FUNdamental — would expand on the ground floor of the old library.
The museum is preparing a 30-year lease agreement with the city.
This is exciting news for the North Side but with much wider implications. Not only is one of old Allegheny’s most beautiful and iconic buildings being rescued, but its new life will create a synergy in Allegheny Center, where the former Allegheny Center Mall, lackluster for so long, has done a 360 as Nova Place, an entrepreneurial and technological incubator with artist studios.
Faros Properties created Nova Place and renovated the adjacent Park View Apartments for $100 million in the past four years. Those apartment buildings — from which I rarely used to see anyone come or go — are now teeming with residents walking dogs, bicycling and playing in Allegheny Commons Park.
Nova Place and the Children’s Museum have worked together on the 2015 and 2016 Maker Faire. The expanse that divides them used to be a shell of sunken, shadeless concrete. The museum raised more than $6 million to create the Buhl Community Park in its place in 2012, and now, what was once an expanse of empty pavement behind Nova Place is becoming an outdoor plaza with green spaces, trees and places for people to sit, Faros spokesman Gretchen D’Atri said.
Additional good news: Smallman Galley, the Strip District restaurant incubator that’s a magnet for informal foodie experiences, is opening a second location in Nova Place this year. The neighbors are positively giddy.
What used to be a dismal place the North Side loved to hate is generating compatible energies, allies of each other’s missions, transforming and radiating out from the heart of old Allegheny.
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