This morning, more than a year after the South Side Market House closed for renovations, city public works director Rob Kaczorowski had a message for the senior citizens who use the building.
"We're back," he announced to the dozens of older adults who attended a ribbon cutting ceremony outside the historic building.
And they were. Once the yellow ribbon was cut, the doors opened and the coffee and pastries served, there was barely an empty seat to be found in the large hall.
South Side Market House at 12th and East Carson Streets was built in 1893 and rebuilt in 1915 after a fire. At different points in its history it has served as a holder for livestock, a fresh food market and a recreation center, according to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
Its most recent incarnation is as a destination for recreation and social activities for about 150 senior citizens each day. But it had been closed since March 2011, when the public works department discovered structural problems with the vestibule floor. Programs were moved to Brashear Association, also on the South Side.
Outside bids for the Market House work came in $500,000 above estimates, so Mr. Kaczorowski's employees did the work in-house for about $230,000. Today, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other city officials, including Councilman Bruce Kraus, attended the reopening ceremony.
The building's closure was challenging for residents who use the center, Mr. Kraus said.
"It's very important to have your day structured, to have a place to go, activities to do," he said. "It goes beyond just a meeting place. It's a place to socialize, see your friends, stay connected, have a reason in your day."
Pat Matthews, president of the South Side senior council, said, "I feel that I was on vacation for 15 months, and I'm finally coming home, and it just feels so good." She walked into a building with a repaired floor, brighter lighting, new paint, new window treatments and a Wii game monitor.
"It's a night and day difference from what it was previously," said Justin Abbott, the center's director. He said the second phase of the Market House renovation, which includes updating an art room and exercise facility, should be completed by the fall.
Over his lifetime, Milton Jones, 79, of the South Side, has watched the Market House change from a food market to a recreation center to a senior citizen center.
Sitting at a table today, he said the city "did a great job" with the renovations.
"It's nice to be back here," he said.