Renovation shines light on glory of former Alcoa facility in New Kensington
By Liz Hayes
Published: Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Developer Steve Kubrick has been renovating the former Alcoa Research Laboratories in New Kensington for nearly two years, but he's still discovering treasures amid the trash.
Replaced windows, new skylights and reconnecting the electricity have shed light on a trio of buildings left largely in the dark since they were abandoned by Alcoa in the 1990s when the remaining jobs were shifted to the Alcoa Technical Center in Upper Burrell.
Shoveling away the debris — a combination of aging fixtures and furniture left behind by the aluminum company plus the leavings of vandals — revealed the solid base of concrete, stone, brick, marble and aluminum that will form a 200,000-square-foot “vanilla shell” for prospective tenants.
And sandblasting away the grime has revealed the architectural details of Building 29, Alcoa's showpiece that has sat guarded from Freeport Road by fences and landscaping for more than eight decades.
Kubrick said he is delighted by the colors and patina emerging in the aluminum doors, flagstones and marble floors surrounding the entrance of Building 29, named after the year it was built.
“These are like little treasures you find,” he said.
He is far from the only person intrigued by the resurrection of what once was the heart of the city's industrial lifeblood.
Kubrick and his marketing intern, Penn State New Kensington student Stacey Ansell of Springdale, said they have been inundated with calls and visits from interested tenants, former Alcoa workers and people who grew up near the site but never had an opportunity to go inside.
They recently hosted a private event on the front lawn.
“I must have given about 50 tours,” Kubrick said.
But the interest has produced results, both in terms of bringing in businesses and in gaining information on how the buildings once looked.
Kubrick said he has three tenants who have signed leases: a landscaping contractor looking for office space; a service company in need of storage for inventory and vehicles; and a paper distributor.
Kubrick was ready to reveal the name of only one tenant: Steel City Paper and Supply.
Owner Mark Pleva said he was moving out of Schreiber Industrial Park and thought Kubrick's property was a good fit.
“I had other opportunities, but I wanted to stay in the area. It's close to my house,” Pleva said. “It's convenient — the right place at the right time.”
Kubrick believes the three tenants are the tip of the iceberg. He said several companies and agencies have toured the facilities and liked the flexible space and convenient access to Route 28.
“It's great to hear people say New Kensington is a better location (than their current sites),” Kubrick said.
“I think there are a lot of promising situations that are happening up there,” said New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo. “Everything is going as planned. Things are progressing well, and I think it will just keep getting better.”
Kubrick said the high-bay space available in each of the buildings is one of the factors driving the interest. Each building has areas with ceilings ranging from about 14 feet to 40 feet high, plus overhead cranes and loading bays.
Another plus is that the buildings were constructed as solid square shells. Interior walls can be knocked out or built depending on the needs of tenants.
Kubrick said the cost and timing to make space available depends on the tenants. Basic office or storage space with an open floor plan could be readied within a month or two and cost as little as $4 per square foot to prepare. More complex needs — individual offices, clean-room space, other amenities — would take more time and money to turn around.
Kubrick said a few more major projects will be completed in the coming months: Roofing repairs are about to begin, and he's preparing to seek bids for work on the ventilation system, bathrooms and elevators.
Using photographs, he has almost finished restoring the front rooms on the main floor of Building 29 to as close to their original appearance as possible. In what could be used as classrooms or offices, cream walls are accented with blue trim and the floors are covered with terra cotta tiles.
While keeping much of what Alcoa built, Kubrick will put his own modern stamp on the site.
Between use of natural light and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system, Kubrick wants to go as green as possible.
He would like to add a reflecting pond between the sycamore trees that frame the front entrance. He has ideas of hosting a museum inside and private and public events inside and out — offering the community access to the property it never had before.
And he has renamed the 17-acre complex the A-K Research Park.
“It gives it its own name and identity,” Kubrick said.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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