Students offer ideas on how to revitalize Jeannette

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Student teams from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania last week offered insight into how to revitalize a portion of Jeannette’s downtown as part of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s annual Architectural Challenge.

For 18 years, the challenge has invited middle and high schools students to examine various sites and come up with plans to revitalize them while maintaining their historical significance. This year’s challenge focused on a vacant two-story brick building at 506-508 Clay Ave. that once housed a popular department store, and an adjacent vacant lot at 510 Clay Ave.

In October, students from the Pittsburgh Environmental Charter School and nine Westmoreland County school districts came to Jeannette to examine and begin devising plans for future development of the site.

"We chose Jeannette because of its history and because it is at a critical time," said Louise Sturgess, foundation executive director.

Last week, the student teams returned to Jeannette, where they presented their plans that consisted of a three-dimensional model showing their vision, an oral presentation and written report, all of which were presented to a panel of judges, including architectural and community planning specialists who chose winners in both age brackets.

On Thursday, 14 middle school teams made their presentation to the judges that included: Carl Bolton of Carlton Bolton Design LLC of Pittsburgh; Barbara J. Ciampini, planning director for Greensburg; Steven Gifford of the Greensburg Community Development Corp.; Kelly Stroup, an expert in historic preservation; and Margie Hudson of the Jeannette Area Historical Society, which hosted the event.

Mrs. Ciampini, Mr. Gifford, Ms. Stroup and Ms. Hudson returned Friday to judge another round of 13 middle school teams and seven high school competitors. They were joined by Roger Hartung of IKM Inc. in Pittsburgh and Cathey Means, also of Jeannette's historical society.

Student plans ranged from renovating the building for use by different business ventures, including an artist center to restaurants to an ice cream/candy shop. The plans involved environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features, such as bamboo flooring, rainwater filters and roof gardens that would provide natural insulation and "green space," while maintaining the historical integrity of the building.

A seventh-grade team from Franklin Regional School District, consisting of Shelby Cooper, Allena Riggio, Julia Perry and Meg Anderson, presented plans for using the building's first floor for an ice cream/candy shop while turning the second floor into a community/party room.

"We believe this [plan] would make me want to come here," said Allena Riggio, who added that her team, which ultimately took third place in the competition, came up with their idea from the Murrysville Community Center.

One plan included using large glass block windows in addition to making room for a museum to mark Jeannette’s historical value. In its heyday, the first half of the 20th century, Jeannette earned the nickname "the glass city" in recognition of the numerous glass plants founded in the area.

At times, there were as many as seven significant glass factories operating in the city, including some of the most well known in the history of the glass industry. Names such as Jeannette Glass, Fort Pitt Glass, Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass and Glass Co., American-Saint Gobain, Westmoreland Glass, and others supplied the country with everything from plate glass windows, to bottles, to milk glass for many decades.

At one point, it was estimated that Jeannette produced between 70 and 85 percent of the world's glass. During this time, the city flourished, but it all changed in the 1970s, as the glass industry fell victim to cheap, foreign competition that made it less expensive to produce glass overseas.

Today, like so many industrial towns in southwestern Pennsylvania, the city is struggling to keep afloat due to a dwindling population and tax base.

"The presentations were absolutely wonderful," said Ms. Hudson. "I was so impressed with those kids’ imagination and what they put into it."

Results of the high school challenge were: Penn-Trafford, first; Monessen, second; and Jeannette Team 2, third.

The results of Friday's middle school challenge were: Yough Team 2, first; Monessen, second; and Yough Team 1, third.

Results of Thursday's middle school challenge were: West Hempfield, first; Greensburg Team A-1, second; and Franklin Regional Team 5, third.

Linda Metz, freelance writer:

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