When money is tight, people think not only of looking for coins under the sofa cushions but also selling the family heirlooms.
In Pittsburgh Public Schools, which expects to go broke in 2016 unless it changes course, the board last week talked briefly about whether to sell the Board of Education building on South Bellefield Avenue in Oakland.
Designed by Ingham and Boyd, the 1920s building is described by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation as "a very tasteful version of Italian High Renaissance palace architecture" and its courtyard as a "charming oasis."
The building is not on the market, but the question of whether to sell it came up at a school board meeting last week when Fourth River Development -- the district's real estate agent hired last year -- gave its recommendations on what to do with 20 closed school buildings, most of which it wants to market and sell via a negotiated sale.
"Another one that is extremely important from a real estate perspective is this very building we are all in," John Watson, Fourth River managing partner/broker, told the board.
"While it is used every single day, it is probably one of your most valuable assets. And I think some consideration should be put to that to relocate to one of the schools and possibly help revitalize one of those neighborhoods with the staff being out there," he said.
Pat Morosetti, sales and leasing manager for Fourth River, said demand is high in Oakland. He said occupancy rates have been "well into the 90s. It depends on what study you look at. It's basically a fully occupied market, residential and commercial."
One of the challenges would be the expense of moving the central office and whether any other location would be as accessible to the public as the Oakland building.
After the meeting, board member Floyd "Skip" McCrea estimated such costs would be "astronomical" and questioned whether another location would have the bus service and parking of the Oakland site.
But he said, "We're broke. We've got to look at everything."
Board President Sharene Shealey said she is not opposed to considering selling the administration building, but it would have to be "cost positive."
Second Vice President Bill Isler said he's not opposed to talking about anything, but he wants to focus first on finding building uses that are good for the community.
Mr. Isler said the idea of selling the administration building has come up many times but "I don't think the board has ever wanted to have a very serious discussion about it."
First Vice President Thomas Sumpter said the matter was just for information, finding another building may be difficult and a review of all of the factors "couldn't be done in a short-term time frame."
Of the 20 closed schools it studied, Fourth River recommended keeping just one -- Knoxville, for use as a warehouse -- and marketing the others. However, the company suggested the board also consider whether it wants to "mothball" some schools in case enrollment grows.
The 20 closed buildings have a combined debt of $9.15 million and an annual operating cost of $681,850. If a building is sold to a for-profit entity, that structure's outstanding debt must be paid.
The three with the largest debt are Northview in Northview Heights, $1.96 million; Fort Pitt in Garfield, $1.86 million; and Belmar in Homewood, $1.34 million.
While they still would be marketed, Fourth River listed four schools as prospects for donation or demolition: Beltzhoover, Gladstone in Hazelwood, Rogers in Garfield and Belmar.
Fourth River considers four properties to have "high interest" and will focus on them first: McCleary in Lawrenceville, Morningside, Columbus on the North Side and Burgwin in Hazelwood.
Built in 1965, Columbus, which has a debt of $657,850, currently is leased to Propel Northside charter school. Fourth River said Propel, a nonprofit group, would like to buy it.
In a negotiated sale, a property could not be sold to a for-profit organization for less than the highest of three appraisals.
The others recommended for negotiated sale are divided into three groups.
The first, with a timeline beginning in October this year, are Northview, Bon Air, Madison in the Hill District and old Homewood schools.
The second group's timeline starts in February 2014 and includes McNaugher in Perry South, Sheraden, Schaeffer in Crafton Heights and Murray in Mount Oliver.
The third group, which has a timeline beginning in July 2014, includes Mann in Marshall-Shadeland, Stevens in Elliott and Fort Pitt in Garfield.
Some of the schools are adjacent to property -- such as fields, playgrounds and the city's Homewood swimming pool -- owned by the city or the Urban Development Authority.
This includes Burgwin, Fort Pitt, old Homewood, Murray, Schaeffer and Stevens.
Fourth River suggested seeing whether any of the city or URA property could be considered surplus and be sold with a school.
City Councilman Corey O'Connor, chair of the council's committee on urban recreation, he would consider joint marketing but would be careful not to "take away a neighborhood's only recreational facilities." The city is in the midst of a study of open space and parks.
Fourth River pledged that the community would be involved in the process for all schools.
In Morningside where the school was built in 1897 and closed in 2006, Grant Ervin, president of the Morningside Area Community Council, said the group has had several inquiries over the years about the school, including market-rate apartments, senior apartments and mixed use, combining residential and commercial.
The school has $9,180 in debt, the lowest of the 20.
At the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, preservation director Matthew Ragan said, "As always, PHLF feels that many of the Pittsburgh Public Schools' old buildings are worthy of preservation and re-use, and especially those that are distinctive architecturally and fit well with the surrounding neighborhoods.
"If any buildings are being considered for demolition, PHLF would like the opportunity to discuss those plans in detail beforehand."
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.