Schenley High in Pittsburgh put up for sale

Public Schools board votes to seek bids; district wants at least $4 million

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On a 5-4 vote, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board Wednesday decided to put the former Schenley High School in Oakland up for sale.

The board voted to seek bids on the historic building that was closed in 2008 after then-superintendent Mark Roosevelt said it would take $76.2 million to renovate, including addressing an asbestos problem. It was built in 1916.

Voting in favor were Theresa Colaizzi, Jean Fink, Bill Isler, Floyd McCrea and Sherry Hazuda. Opposed were Mark Brentley Sr., Regina Holley, Sharene Shealey and Thomas Sumpter.

Mr. Brentley questioned the conditions under which Schenley was closed in the first place, saying scare tactics over the asbestos issue were used. He called for an investigation.

Ms. Holley said she thinks the building -- particularly the gym and swimming pool -- could be used by students at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 in the Hill District and Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 in East Liberty.

Ms. Colaizzi said the building was unsafe and is costing the district money. "We can't hold onto this building forever. We can't financially afford it," she said.

The board last fall rejected a $2 million bid from PMC Property Group of Philadelphia, which planned to spend $35 million transforming it into apartments.

The district had sought a minimum bid of $4 million, which it will seek again.

The board considered voting in the spring to put Schenley back in the market, but delayed the decision.

Over the summer, a study facilitated by Pfaffmann + Associates and funded through Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto's office, examined possible adaptive reuses of the building and received community input.

The report notes it did not take an advocacy position on whether the district should keep the building, noting some want the school to resume.

In an interview, Rob Pfaffmann, an architect and community planner who facilitated the process, said the general consensus was that there is an "opportunity to do something very innovative here. It's a really great building. It's got great bones. It's structurally sound. Yes, it's got asbestos. The asbestos issues are important, but they are not insurmountable."

He said a developer could tackle the asbestos issue more efficiently than the process school district must follow.

"The headline in many ways about this project is a lot of people got excited about seeing this building as mixed use," he said.

If certain requirements are met, the study notes the building might qualify for both federal and state income tax credits for historic building rehabilitation. To qualify, the building must retain certain "character-defining features," such as the triangular exterior shape, the wide corridors and the auditorium, the report states.

The study suggests one possibility would be to use the bottom floors for education, such as lifelong learning for adults or a thematic charter school.

The auditorium could potentially be a space for nonprofits.

The upper floors have room for 93 apartments.

The gym and pool could be used by residents, developed as a health club or demolished for more parking.

education - neigh_city

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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