Schenley aftermath: The decision is about what's best for Pittsburgh
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The Pittsburgh school board should use its head and not its heart when deciding the future of the former Schenley high school building.
That's what it did in 2008 when making the difficult decision to put the health of students and the price tag for removing asbestos from the Oakland landmark ahead of the emotional attachment that alumni, students and the community have to Schenley.
With the building now for sale, the board must decide which of four bidders will get to purchase the triangular fortress that counts artist Andy Warhol among its notable graduates. For that reason, a $4.1 million offer from a Schenley alumni group that hopes to turn the building into the Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts may be the sentimental favorite.
The district, however, doesn't have the luxury of making a decision based on fond feelings and nostalgia. The Warhol plan is lower than two other bids. It raises a question of how long the building would remain on the tax rolls since a nonprofit organization would be formed to run the school. And the city already has a successful arts program at its Creative and Performing Arts high school Downtown. That kind of duplication -- albeit from a private school that would charge tuition -- seems counterproductive in a downsizing school district.
The district has several aims in selling the Schenley building: to get revenue from the sale, to bring in tax revenue long term from the 4.1-acre property and historic structure, and to create a high-quality development that complements and enhances the neighborhood while integrating the building's architectural highlights.
A seven-member review panel advised the district that the best offer to meet all of its goals was from PMC/Schenley HSB Associates. It would pay $5.2 million and spend $36.9 million to create 175 luxury apartments with a fitness center. PMC is a Philadelphia development firm with a track record Downtown -- it converted the former Verizon building into apartments and a charter school, and it hopes to transform the John P. Robin Civic Building into housing as well.
The developer will give a public presentation of its plans at 6 p.m. on Feb. 18 at the school district administration building on Bellefield Avenue in Oakland. It enters this phase of the process as the favorite.
First Published February 16, 2013 12:00 am