Ex-Schenley students try Reizenstein on for size

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The squat, 33-year-old Reizenstein building in Shadyside may lack the architectural majesty of the historic, triangular Schenley building in Oakland.

But Reizenstein has new furniture, two student lounges and ample space for playing sports outside.

Students were left to sort out the pros and cons yesterday, the start of the 2008-09 school year for most Pittsburgh Public Schools and Reizenstein's debut as the new home of Pittsburgh Schenley High School.

"It doesn't really matter as long as I get my education," junior James Bullock of Garfield said when asked his preference for the school's location.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, who toured the building at about 8 a.m., said the school is "still Schenley. It's just in a different building."

In a move bitterly opposed by parents, students and other Schenley supporters, the school board voted to close the Oakland building after the last school year for maintenance reasons.

Schenley's remaining students were reassigned to Reizenstein, but incoming ninth-graders were diverted to other schools, meaning Schenley -- traditionally one of the city's most popular, highest-performing schools -- will die in three years.

The district this summer launched a $5 million effort to make Schenley students feel at home in Reizenstein, a former middle school that closed in June 2006. The work included new carpeting, furnishings, floor tiles, lighting and paint, plus creation of the wall-less student lounges.

Facilities Director Vidya Patil suggested using comfy furniture to give the lounges a coffeehouse feel, but Principal Sophia Facaros said no to sofas. Only standard tables and chairs occupied one lounge yesterday.

"At least we got A-C," senior Keith Smith of Homewood said. Reizenstein is air-conditioned; the Oakland building was not.

Schenley banners fluttered from Reizenstein's eaves, and a cabinet outside the main office displayed Schenley memorabilia. An abstract sculpture outside the building had been painted red and black, Schenley's colors. A scoreboard scavenged from the Oakland building dominated a gym wall, and a Schenley Spartans logo had been painted on the gym floor.

Athletic Director Ken Saybel and physical education teacher Fred Skrocki expressed satisfaction with the move, saying students will have expanded weight-training facilities and outdoor tennis, basketball and soccer areas that the district couldn't provide in congested Oakland.

Conspicuously missing, though, were the Oakland universities, libraries and museums that supporters called important to Schenley's international studies/International Baccalaureate magnet. Reizenstein sits off Penn Avenue, near a strip shopping center and the coming Bakery Square complex.

The move brought other inconveniences. Students who were in Schenley's robotics magnet, for example, now spend part of the day at the program's new location, Pittsburgh Peabody High School in East Liberty.

Mrs. Facaros was upbeat, saying she helped open Reizenstein as a teacher 33 years ago and still felt comfortable there.

She said she initially anticipated having 700 students in grades 10 through 12 this school year, but ended up having to cap enrollment at 750. Despite the controversy over Schenley, she said, "the education being afforded is excellent and parents understand that."

But it wasn't the way senior John Tokarski III of Glen Hazel wanted to start his senior year. He was missing the Oakland site.

"I wanted to graduate from that building," he said.

Eight district schools opened Aug. 18, and about 60 others opened yesterday, including the new university-prep school in the Hill District. The school opened with about 150 ninth-graders, many of them from Schenley's old neighborhood feeder pattern.

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


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