Firm to help sell vacated Pittsburgh schools

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The Pittsburgh Public Schools tonight would move a step closer to selling 24 surplus buildings with a vote to hire a real estate company to market the properties and vet prospective buyers.

Nearly four dozen companies and nonprofit groups have expressed interest in those buildings -- and others the district isn't prepared to sell, operations chief Richard Fellers said.

The education group A+ Schools, city Councilman Bill Peduto and some neighborhood groups have demanded that the district consider neighborhood needs -- not merely the best price -- in selling the buildings.

The district hopes to make some money on the sales, return some of the buildings to the tax rolls and shed the estimated $2 million annual cost of maintaining the buildings, many of which were closed under last year's "right-sizing" plan.

Mr. Fellers, saying the district lacks expertise in real estate matters, has recommended that the board adopt a contract with GVA Oxford, Downtown.

The district would pay the company $6,250 -- a nominal amount, district Solicitor Ira Weiss said -- for each building sold. Oxford would create marketing packages with photos and maps, create lists of prospective buyers and help evaluate offers.

"I think the operative word there is 'help,' " Mr. Fellers said, noting the district would retain oversight of the process.

The 24 buildings represent about 2 million square feet of space on 68 acres. Such resources can help shape community development or revitalization efforts, according to a Sept. 13 report from Vacant School Reuse Project, an initiative formed three years ago by A+ Schools and other groups.

The groups suspended work last year and released their report before they wanted to do so, saying the school district wasn't supporting their work.

Their report says the district "should resist a quick sale of the most marketable properties," "adopt criteria for buyers of the school properties [beyond highest price] in order to ensure that developments go forward with responsible properties" and turn over the sales process to an expert third party.

Carey Harris, interim executive director of A+ Schools, said the contract with Oxford would be a "step in the right direction" but fall short of the comprehensive planning the groups recommended.

The district may sell buildings through sealed bids, public auctions or court-approved sales, or convey them to a government entity, such as the city Urban Redevelopment Authority. The board may attach stipulations to discourage or prohibit certain uses, such as for charter schools.

The district is offering 22 buildings closed since 2001, including the South Hills High School building it's been trying to sell with the URA's assistance. The list also includes two buildings -- housing Vann Elementary School in the Hill District and Rogers Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Garfield -- to be closed when the schools are relocated.

Mr. Fellers said he doesn't expect the 24 buildings to fetch large sums.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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