Roof's the limit for company

| Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007

Blueroof Technologies Inc. is expanding its vision from building one single-family "smart" house at a time to creating an entire McKeesport community for elderly or disabled residents that could be reproduced almost anywhere.

The technology company that a local engineering professor and a retired high school principal founded will present plans to McKeesport officials tonight for a 10-acre McKeesport Independence Zone that would surround its gadget-packed model cottage at Spring and Locust streets.

"This zone will become someplace where somebody can be fully independent regardless of their challenges, their handicaps," said John G. Bertoty, executive director of the nonprofit company.

Blueroof Technologies and its sister firm, Blueroof Solutions, have existed for about five years and recently gained momentum by selling energy-efficient, handicapped-accessible modular smart homes to families and to agencies that run supervised group homes.

The McKeesport Zone would stretch across several blocks off Walnut Street.

Blueroof owns or has put money down on a few properties, Bertoty said, and has identified 35 others that are tax-delinquent or in need of redevelopment.

Fifteen to 20 more technology-equipped modular houses would be built, according to Blueroof's plan, along with a technology center and headquarters for the company and perhaps a community grocery store.

The first of the zone's additional houses to be built would be an energy-efficient demonstration house, and a group home for people with disabilities, Bertoty said.

Bertoty, a former McKeesport High School principal, and Technology Director Robert A. Walters, an engineering professor at Pennsylvania State University's campus in the city, first worked together on technology education programs.

The partners later turned their attention to the area's large elderly population, deciding to create a company that would create jobs while selling affordable, technology-equipped homes to allow older residents to continue living by themselves.

Blueroof -- sustaining itself with $900,000 in grants from Allegheny County, foundations and other sources -- forged partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh researchers working on a National Science Foundation-funded study on using technology to enhance quality of life.

The smart cottage became a test bed for a variety of computerized systems that secure the house and announce visitors, remind residents to take medicine and even track when they turn on the water or stove or flush the toilet -- features that allow a relative or caregiver to monitor action in the house from another location.

Walters said a two-bedroom, single-story house equipped with a basic security system in McKeesport would sell for around $110,000. "We can add technology as needed for the resident," he said.

The company has sold or is building about a half-dozen homes for individuals or families -- and is getting orders from service providers such as Allegheny East, which runs 11 group homes for residents with mental retardation and other disabilities.

"This is the first time that we have built from scratch," Kate Bayer, the agency's marketing and development director, said of a three-bedroom, Blueroof-built home that will open later this month in Penn Hills. Monitoring technology will help the on-site caretaker, she said.

"It was such a wonderful way for our folks, especially the ones that are aging, to stay in the community," Bayer said of the house.

In addition, Blueroof is staying focused on its goal of providing education and technology-related jobs in the McKeesport area. The firm has five employees, and brings in interns from Penn State and other universities to work and study at the cottage, and eventually the technology center, Walters said.

When choosing a name for their company, Walters and Bertoty looked to the reason they founded it. They thought of the blue-topped buildings on the McKeesport side of the Regional Industrial Development Corp.'s Riverplace business park, which sits on both sides of the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge.

"Our long-term objective is to have companies down there actually manufacturing the technology and manufacturing the housing and putting our local kids to work," Bertoty said.

Additional Information:

High-tech assisted living

Blueroof Technologies said it plans to include these features in the 15 to 20 'smart' homes it would build in a 10-acre McKeesport Independence Zone off Walnut Street:

* Security system that includes fire, carbon monoxide, heat, window and door sensors.

* Sun Clean windows by PPG that don't need washing on the outside.

* Tankless, energy-saving hot-water system by Nortiz.

* Wireless network coverage of the neighborhood by Wellspring, and home automation controllers by HAI.

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