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Woodland Hills school board approves sale of administration building

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:15 p.m.
The Woodland Hills School Board approved the sale of its administration building in Churchill on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Woodland Hills School Board approved the sale of its administration building in Churchill on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Woodland Hills School District's plan to sell its administration building and relocate offices to Braddock doesn't sit well with some residents.

The Woodland Hills school board on Monday approved, 5-4, selling the building in Churchill for $625,000 to Trek Development Group, Downtown. The company plans to replace it with a building containing 48 units, mostly for people at least age 62 with a household income of less than $32,300 a year.

The district will lease 9,000 square feet of office space, for $125,000 annually, on the second floor of a 20,000-square-foot commercial building that Trek will build in Braddock on the site of the former UPMC Braddock hospital.

The lease is contingent upon the sale of the administration building.

“I'm not looking for a Taj Mahal. I'm looking to save people money,” said school board Vice President Marilyn Messina, who voted in favor.

The administration building and its 7.5 acres were appraised at $625,000 in a report commissioned by the school district and Trek, said William Gatti Jr., Trek's president.

The sale and lease deal would be more cost effective than paying $4 million to renovate the administration building, which is too large, or renovating space for administrative offices in a school building, substitute Superintendent Alan Johnson said.

Built in 1952, the 24,900-square-foot building has plumbing, mechanical, electrical, asbestos and other issues, the district said. Officials have considered relocating administrative offices for eight years, Messina said.

Opponents to the sale/lease deal questioned whether the district was letting a valuable piece of property go too easily.

“They've done no independent analysis of whether that's a good deal. They've relied entirely on the work of Trek,” said Lawrence Lepidi, Churchill Council vice president, on Tuesday. He also spoke at the meeting Monday.

Wendy Mate of Churchill said low-income senior housing would reduce the borough's tax base and spur more residents to leave.

But Forest Hills resident Linda Esposto said the district's budget woes necessitated tough decisions. The district has struggled with deficits in the past few years.

“Get the right price from whoever is interested in this property and sell it,” she said.

School director Robert Tomasic, who voted against the deal, said Pace, a private school for children with special needs, wanted to buy the administration building, which is in front of Pace. But he said it wasn't given fair consideration, nor were requests for proposals solicited.

Pace, which has 135 students, bid twice on the Woodland Hills building. Its last bid was for a minimum of $550,000, or 120 percent of the building's appraised value, Pace Chief Executive Officer Karen Lamoureux said.

Woodland Hills declined Pace's offer in June because Trek's proposal would make the property taxable, generating revenue for the district and Churchill, said school director Colleen Filiak, who voted in favor of the Trek deal.

The sale is subject to court approval, and Trek's housing plan would require zoning approval by Churchill.

Terms of the sale and lease must be approved by Trek and the school district within 45 days of Monday's vote.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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