Students devise ideas for vacant sites in Jeannette

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Historic buildings throughout southwestern Pennsylvania are often placed on demolition rosters due to years of neglect.

"It's the next generation that will miss out unless something is done," said Louise Sturgess, executive director of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

With this in mind, the foundation has sponsored the Architectural Design Challenge for the past 18 years. In the challenge, middle and high school students are invited to examine a building and a vacant lot and come up with a new use and design for them.

The competition has included various sites over the years, including some in Pittsburgh. This year, the students visited downtown Jeannette, concentrating on a vacant building at 506-508 Clay Ave., and an adjacent vacant lot at 510 Clay Ave.

In addition to examining the building and lot, approximately 200 students talked with local business owners to help them form a new vision for the sites. Participating students are from the Pittsburgh Environmental Charter School, Greensburg Salem Middle School, Franklin Regional Middle School, Hempfield Area middle schools, Jeannette Senior High School, Monessen middle and high schools, Mount Pleasant Area High School, Penn-Trafford School District, Valley Middle School and Yough middle and senior high schools.

"We chose Jeannette because of its history and because it is at a critical time," said Mrs. Sturgess. "We asked the students to think about the traditional Main Street and how to get life and vitality back."

According to Mrs. Sturgess, the teams consists of four to six students who have until March to create and submit a three-dimensional model showing their vision. They also must prepare an oral presentation and written report, all of which will be presented to a panel of judges, including architectural and community planning specialists, who will choose the winner.

Mrs. Sturgess said student ideas included a restaurant, a bowling alley and a coffee shop/museum.

In addition to touring the sites, the students were informed by John Howard, president of the Jeannette Historical Society, of the history of the area and the challenges facing the city.

"We were happy to host this year's competition," said Mr. Howard, who explained that the city's hope for the future now lies in the hands of the next generation. "This is the next generation with all the ideas and the e-technology" to preserve our historical sites and return them to good use.

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Linda Metz, freelance writer;


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