Less than two years after the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh closed the Holy Rosary School in Homewood, a community group is putting it to new use as the Arts, Culture and Training Institute.
The 18-year-old Community Empowerment Association will consolidate two locations, including its headquarters in North Point Breeze, into the 100-year-old school building at 7120 Kelly St.
Rashad Byrdsong, executive director of the association, said the deal with the diocese is being finalized and that the site should be open in April.
The new institute's offerings will include workforce training from culinary and catering to construction; health and nutrition programs; family counseling; after-school programs, arts projects and a theater collaboration with the August Wilson Center.
The association, which receives fees for services from social service agencies and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, is buying the school building with a $250,000 loan from the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority; $50,000 of that will go toward renovations. It also has a $400,000 loan from the First Niagara Bank and state, county and city support, variously, for fire safety updates and handicap accessibility and to run workforce training programs.
The proximity to the YMCA, the Homewood branch of the Community College of Allegheny County, Operation Better Block and the Homewood Children's Village poises the association to strengthen what Mr. Byrdsong referred to as "a development and service hub."
"One area we want to address is an integration of services," he said. "So many people do many things on little money. I see it as a hub for organizations to come together to maximize delivery to the population."
The association was lauded for its work at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday. It had run afoul of the county in 2009 when an audit indicated it had misused more than $303,000 of a $1.5 million contract for truancy-prevention programs between 2007 and 2008. The association has since paid back all but about $25,000, said Randy Brockington, human services' deputy director.
"In the audit," he said, "there was nothing like fraud indicated, just undocumented" spending.
Rob Stephany, executive director of the URA, said the association has been a good tenant of two URA spaces and that the URA has targeted Homewood near North Point Breeze for economic development dollars. "We think this will be a good investment for us and the community," he said.
Mr. Byrdsong said the reuse of the school will prevent it from becoming a large blighted presence and is a hopeful sign for Homewood's future.
"Despite what we see in our communities in terms of violence and educational issues," he said, "we still have significant institutions willing to invest in our community."
City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who completed grade school at Holy Rosary, proclaimed this as "our time" at Wednesday's ceremony.
"If ever there was a time to be hopeful about Homewood's future, it is now. It won't be what it was in the 1970s, but who says it can't be better?"