Petitioners seek answers about Schenley High School closing in 2008
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While Pittsburgh Public Schools is seeking a buyer for the former Pittsburgh Schenley High School, more than 530 people have signed an online petition asking the school board to investigate the reasons the historic building was closed in 2008.
The school board last month voted 5-4 to put the Oakland building up for sale at a minimum price of $4 million. Fourth River Development has been hired to market the property. The deadline for sealed bids is noon Jan. 18.
But the petitioners want the school board not to make any decisions until their questions about the 2008 closing are addressed.
One of the dissenters on the school board is Mark Brentley Sr., who came up with the idea of a petition.
"There's definitely a cloud over the process," Mr. Brentley said of the Schenley closing.
Annette Werner of Squirrel Hill, whose son graduated from Schenley in 2007, helped make the online petition a reality.
"We have to hold our government leaders accountable," she said.
The school board voted to close Schenley -- at the time, one of the district's highest performing high schools -- after then-superintendent Mark Roosevelt said it would take $76.2 million to renovate, including addressing an asbestos problem.
The petitioners want an investigation to determine whether "important information" was withheld when the decision was made.
A series of studies gave various estimates of the cost of renovating Schenley, including three amounts by three different firms that ranged from $55.7 million to $86.9 million in 2005 and 2006.
The estimated cost of just the asbestos work ranged from $6 million to $8.5 million in three reports.
The petition notes a 2009 study -- after the school closed -- had less drastic findings. That report said it would take about $1.1 million for asbestos abatement, not counting renovations. That figure did not include any asbestos work concerning the interior boiler and stack insulation as well as concealed pipe, pipe fitting and duct insulation.
The petition raises questions about whether district officials knew about lower estimates before 2008.
School board President Sherry Hazuda, who voted against closing Schenley but for seeking bids, said, "I think it's admirable that they feel that strongly about the building as well as the program that was in it.
"Do I think anyone did anything underhanded? No. Do I think people had differences of opinion of what was best for the students in that building? Yes," she said.
She said she voted for putting the building up for sale to help establish its market value.
"If we can get a whole lot of money for it, maybe we owe it to the taxpayers to sell it. If we don't get a lot of money for it, maybe we owe it to the community to hang onto it for possible future use," Ms. Hazuda said.
Kathy Fine of Highland Park, who, along with Ms. Werner and others, advocated for Schenley when the closing was announced and helped to start the blog, Pure Reform, said she still hopes that Schenley can reopen as a school.
She said Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 -- where some of the Schenley students were reassigned -- lacks adequate athletic facilities and could benefit from the gym and pool at Schenley.
Regina Holley, who joined the school board after Schenley was closed and voted against putting it up for sale, said she supports the petitioners' efforts.
She believes the asbestos problem was "overstated just from the reports we have, but if we don't investigate it a little further, we won't know exactly what transpired."
The petition can be found at change.org, using "Schenley" in the find box.
First Published October 26, 2012 12:00 am