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Historic McKeesport roundhouse set for demolition

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 9:55 a.m.
Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County plans to begin demolition of this 106-year-old facility near McKeesport's Fifteenth Avenue Bridge on Tuesday.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County plans to begin demolition of this 106-year-old facility near McKeesport's Fifteenth Avenue Bridge on Tuesday.

Demolition is to begin on Tuesday on the remaining portion of a 106-year-old former water pumping facility near McKeesport's Fifteenth Avenue Bridge.

The Water Roundhouse opened on Oct. 11, 1908, as part of the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant, regarded as the first regional facility to provide reliable and safe drinking water to area residents.

“It's in bad shape inside,” said Joel Halaszynski, a Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County production supervisor in charge of maintenance. “They're going to tear it down ... then we can use the lot for other projects that are coming up.”

According to a 2011 history of the city written by Michelle Tryon Wardle-Eggers and John W. Barna of the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center, the plant enabled the city to go from having what the U.S. Geological Survey described as the worst water in the country to what city residents regarded as the finest water in the nation.

“Cases of typhoid fever, which had been numerous, virtually disappeared after this plant was built,” according to “McKeesport,” a part of the Arcadia Publishing Postcard History Series.

The roundhouse preceded the city's sale of its water service to the municipal authority. It sits on a 5.3533-acre tract purchased by the Westmoreland County authority in 1987 for $1.

The 1908 plant was replaced in 1990 by the present plant drawing water out of the Youghiogheny River, located about a block away from the roundhouse on the McKeesport side of the bridge.

In 2001 a new shingle roof was installed on the roundhouse.

According to Allegheny County real estate officials, if it were taxable, the roundhouse would have an assessed value of $833,900, while the surrounding land has a value of $214,100.

Others have seen the roundhouse as a landmark for travel on the nearby Great Allegheny Passage, such as the Pump House has become along the trail in Munhall's portion of the Waterfront.

In 2004 artists Ann Rosenthal, Stephanie Flom and Jackie Brookner sought to develop a revitalization strategy for McKeesport's enthusiasm, economy and ecology.

They focused on McKeesport's possibilities as a trail town, a distinction granted to the city a decade later by The Progress Fund.

The artists saw two historical roundhouses as bookends to the trail system in McKeesport. One is the water roundhouse, the other a railroad roundhouse built in 1905 in the Boston section of Elizabeth Township.

Halaszynski said a storage shed is to be built on the water roundhouse site for equipment, while more room is to be developed for drying the sludge that is a byproduct of drawing water out of the Youghiogheny River.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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