For sale signs stand in front of the former Schenley High School building in Oakland.
By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The former Schenley High School could see new life as a private or charter school, under a plan being proposed by a group of alumni who are raising money to bid on the historic property.
A leader of the alumni group wants the Pittsburgh Public Schools board to give special consideration to the proposal to reopen Schenley as the Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts, although a lawyer for the district said the current competitive bidding process must be completed.
Still, members of the alumni group are hopeful their proposal will win on merit, although the district has set minimum bids for the North Oakland property at $4 million.
"We don't intend to get into a bidding war," said Edward Alexei, a San Francisco-based technology entrepreneur who graduated from Schenley in 1988. "We hope the school board gives us an opportunity to present our project and will consider us an alternative to developers who are looking to make the school into condominiums or apartments."
The school closed in 2008 amid concerns about the cost of asbestos remediation in the school, which opened in 1916.
So far, he said, the proposal to purchase and redevelop Schenley as a charter or private school has earned financial commitments from three investors. Under the district's request for proposals, all bids must be submitted by Friday and will be opened in the board's meeting room in the district administrative offices on North Bellefield Avenue at 2 p.m.
Bids will be evaluated on a combination of factors, including the bid price, the proposed use of the property, potential tax revenue, and possible benefit to the district and the community, according to Ira Weiss, legal counsel for the school district.
And while the price of the bid is just one factor, he said, the school district can't consider one proposal in isolation. The request for proposals process was very detailed, with significant public input and many hours of work by the sale manager, Fourth River Development, LLC.
Under Pennsylvania law, Mr. Weiss said, once a public body begins the process to engage in a public contract, it is obligated to follow that process to its conclusion.
"So if any group wishes to make a proposal to buy the property, it cannot circumvent the process undertaken by the district," he said. "It has to follow the same rules everybody else does."
The district has not received any bids for Schenley yet, although bids typically are submitted close to the deadline, Mr. Weiss said. Fifteen development company representatives toured the site in November.
If it prevails, the alumni group wants to remodel and reopen Schenley as a school with an estimated enrollment of 1,000 students and an estimated faculty of 90. The proposed school, which would be named after distinguished alumnus Andy Warhol, would offer what its supporters say is a curriculum that is unique not only to Pennsylvania but to the world and ultimately would sustain itself through student tuition.
Four educational tracks including animation, film and audio production, game development and performing arts would be offered, Mr. Alexei said. Those programs, supporters say, would prepare graduates for careers in digital animation production, video game design and development, film production, audio and music recording production, and performing arts including theater and dance production as well as other disciplines.
The program would include preparation for admission to higher education institutions and collaboration with institutions such as the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Between 2015, when the proposed school would open, and 2020, the school would generate $50 million in incremental revenue to the Pittsburgh area through staff salaries and benefits, and an additional $27 million in revenue through the employment of its graduates, according to supporters.
In addition to the project's potential financial benefits to the region, saving the former Schenley as a school is the right way to honor its legacy as the foundation of excellence for generations of Pittsburgh residents, Mr. Alexei said.
"We believe that today's kids in and around Schenley should have the same opportunity to receive an exceptional education, just like kids have been receiving an exceptional education at Schenley for the past 90 years," he said. "We're going to do our best to make sure the legacy of Schenley doesn't end in 2013."