McKeesport grant secures home demolitions
The demolition of nearly 30 homes is under way in McKeesport as the city begins to revitalize the neighborhood surrounding the new Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate School.
While a handful of abandoned homes were demolished with emergency funding before Twin Rivers opened for classes in January, Stash Trucking is taking on a 29-structure project this summer with Community Infrastructure and Tourism Funds.
The $180,500 grant, secured through the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, will be used to tear down blighted homes in the area between Cornell and Union streets from Versailles Avenue back to Jenny Lind Street.
“We are extremely excited to finally begin the revitalization project of the city's Cultural and Educational Sector after the long process of meandering through bureaucratic red tape,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “We are collaborating with the school district to enhance their state-of-the-art educational facility by eliminating eyesores and creating open space for the construction of new homes in this area. This is a critical component in making our neighborhoods a better place to live.”
While demolition is not a regular CITF category, McKeesport's community development director A.J. Tedesco explained that the scope of this project is much greater than tearing down homes.
The area now defined as McKeesport's Cultural and Educational Sector is home to the new Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate School along with the longstanding Carnegie Library of McKeesport, McKeesport Little Theater, First United Methodist Church and McKeesport Presbyterian Church. Residents hope to turn some lots into parklets and community gardens, and the city has hope for new residential construction.
“The overall project is good for the morale of the neighborhood,” Tedesco said. “Being a resident there, I understand that nobody wants to look at those kind of houses. With that area housing a new school, a library, a theater and two historic churches, it's in the city's best interest to well manicure that area.”
City officials said Stash Trucking crews have been working hard for two weeks, and they'll be visible in the neighborhood throughout the summer.
“When the houses are close together, each one could take two or three days,” said Mark Stash, a partner in the business with his father, George Stash. “When it's one house by itself, you can have it down in a couple hours. You want to do it safely without creating a hazard for yourself or the neighbors.”
Stash said the project has been well received by residents who have observed the company's work.
“Especially on Versailles Avenue, one gentleman has been there 50 years,” he said. “He was thankful that the house next to him was being torn down. He hopes it helps to turn things around up here.”
Members of the Concerned Citizens of the Library District neighborhood task force have been supporters of the project since talks began two years ago.
Shari Holland, who lives along Carnegie Street, said she would have loved to see some of the homes preserved, but she understands the city is doing its best under difficult circumstances.
“It's really sad to see some of these beautiful homes come down, but on the other hand they've sat vacant for years,” Holland said.
“Taking them down is a sign of things improving. I'm hoping that the end result is a more welcoming community, rather than having people drive into our neighborhood to see abandoned homes.”
Cherepko said there are many longtime residents and lifelong McKeesporters who have been in that area for many years.
“They've seen McKeesport through its ups and downs,” Cherepko said. “These are individuals who want to take part in moving our city into the future, and they're happy to see their neighborhood is being revitalized.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.