15 city school buildings on chopping block

Study is a starting point for district to come up with its own plan

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A consulting firm last night recommended closing 15 city school buildings, a proposal sure to stoke controversy in a district still debating the merits of a 2006 restructuring.

City residents are particularly attached to their high schools, and DeJong Inc., an Ohio planning firm, recommended closing two of them -- Peabody in East Liberty and Oliver on the North Side, although the Oliver building would remain open as an alternative school.

Under the plan, Oliver's students would go to Langley High School in Sheraden and Peabody's students would go to a reconstituted Westinghouse High School in Homewood.

School board members Floyd "Skip" McCrea and Thomas Sumpter called DeJong's work a resource for the district to use in developing its own plan to address its declining enrollment.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said last week that he envisioned a two- or three-year process for implementing the district's plan.

Mr. Roosevelt acknowledged that DeJong's recommendations would provoke "some amount of turmoil or disgruntlement." Some parents still lament the 2006 reorganization and say it hasn't done enough to promote achievement.

Under the new plan, Oliver's building would become the new home of the Student Achievement Center, an alternative school now in Homewood, and McNaugher Education Center, a North Side school providing special education.

Peabody's building would be closed, a recommendation that conflicts with a task force's proposal last year to use the building as the future home of the district's new International Baccalaureate school.

Now a neighborhood high school, Westinghouse would expand to serve grades six through 12 -- an idea officials have considered for more than a year.

DeJong representatives outlined the proposed restructuring to the school board business and finance committee.

In all, officials said, the plan would affect 35 schools and two early-childhood centers. While some would be closed, others would be assigned new grade configurations, face adjustments in feeder patters or have classrooms relocated to other buildings.

The district now has about 70 schools and early-childhood centers.

The proposal comes about three years after the board closed 22 schools -- 18 buildings altogether -- in a push to streamline the district amid dropping enrollment and fear of a state takeover.

"This time, we're in a far better situation," Mr. Roosevelt said, referring to what he's hailed as improvements in academics and finances.

As part of the 2006 restructuring, 10 elementary schools expanded to take in middle-grade students.

DeJong's proposal would shutter one of the 10, Manchester PreK-8, and return two, Faison PreK-8 and Lincoln K-8, to elementary schools. Middle-grade students from Faison and Lincoln would go the expanded Westinghouse.

The building housing Faison's middle-grade students would be closed, while the one housing Lincoln's middle-grade students would become a new early-childhood center.

After turning eight low-performing schools into accelerated learning academies three years ago, Mr. Roosevelt has hailed their progress. DeJong's proposal would shift more students to the academies and expand one, Rooney 6-8 on the North Side, to a K-8 configuration.

DeJong said the proposed changes could save the district $300 million in maintenance costs over 10 years but noted that some buildings kept in service will have to be renovated to accommodate students from closed structures.

DeJong analyzed the condition of nearly 80 buildings and made enrollment projections to arrive at its proposal.

It did not take the district's academic plans into consideration -- something Mr. Roosevelt said his staff will do before asking the board to vote on any closings or other changes. Nor did the firm consider factors such as neighborhood rivalries, which could preclude the mixing of students from certain areas.

DeJong's proposal would cut 1.1 million square feet, or 15.9 percent, of district building space.

That parallels the firm's projection that district enrollment will fall by 15.9 percent, or by more than 4,500 students, from fall 2008 to fall 2018. Current K-12 enrollment is 26,123.

DeJong's recommendations include:

• Closing the primary campuses of Arlington PreK-8, Roosevelt PreK-5 in Carrick and Schaeffer K-8 in Crafton Heights. Students would go to each school's intermediate campus.

• Closing Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park and moving students to Fort Pitt PreK-5, an accelerated academy in Garfield.

• Closing Homewood Early Childhood Center and moving students to the new center -- also in Homewood -- in the building to be vacated by Lincoln's middle-grade students.

• Closing McCleary Early Childhood Center and moving students to the new center and Arsenal PreK-5 in Lawrenceville.

• Moving Manchester's students to Pittsburgh King PreK-8, an accelerated academy on the North Side.

• Closing Morrow PreK-5 on the North Side and moving students to Rooney and a second accelerated academy, Northview PreK-5.

• Closing Vann K-5 and moving students to two other Hill District schools, Miller PreK-5 and Weil PreK-5, an accelerated academy.

• Turning Montessori PreK-8 into an elementary school and reassigning middle-grade students to various schools.

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


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