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Final, 3rd meeting to focus on closed Schenley High School

| Monday, July 23, 2012, 12:09 a.m.
The former Schenley High School in Oakland.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
The former Schenley High School in Oakland.

People who live near the former Schenley High School are speaking up to guarantee that they'll have a say in its future.

The last of three community vision meetings concerning possible uses of the building, which closed at the end of the 2007-08 year, will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at UCP/CLASS, 4638 Centre Ave. in Oakland.

“We would like to see something that maintains the integrity of the building and doesn't have a huge impact on the neighborhood around it,” said Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., one of the meetings' sponsors along with the Bellefied Area Citizens Association and the Schenley Farms Civic Association.

About 50 residents attended each of the two previous meetings, Wilson added.

When Pittsburgh Public Schools put the building up for sale in 2011, the only bid was $2 million from PMC Property Group in Philadelphia. The school district still owes $3 million on the building, so the minimum bid is set at $4 million.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, whose office is funding the meetings, said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane had agreed to wait to put out another request for proposal until she had heard the community's findings.

“It's a public building, and the public should have a say in what the adaptive reuse is,” Peduto said. “It has shaped Oakland for 100 years.”

Peduto hopes to present the community's findings to Lane no later than the first week in August.

“This report will only have impact if it is well-received by the school board,” said Norm Cleary, president of the Schenley Farms Civic Association. “We're very hopeful that the board will see this as a tool that they can apply to their process of selling the school.”

Proposals include using the building for multiple purposes, such as having apartments on the upper floors and work spaces on the lower floors.

“Though the upper floors make really nice housing units, the lower floors don't,” said Rob Pfaffman, an architect who is consulting on the project. “So the lower floors might make a great kind of live-work facility for artists or entrepreneurs.”

Pfaffman estimated that renovations would cost about $40 million, depending on the project chosen by developers.

Dan Davis, an environmental engineer with Skelly & Loy, estimated that removing asbestos from pipes and walls would cost $4 million.

“The way the classrooms are made and the exterior looks beautiful, but when you get to the nuts and bolts of the building, you see the true cost,” Davis said.

Peduto added that he hopes the process involving neighborhoods, the district and the city is replicated with other vacant area schools.

“A school is an anchor, and a community is built around it,” Peduto said. “But an empty school can become an anchor that can weigh a community down.”

Adam Wagner is a news intern for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7956 or adamwagner@tribweb.com.

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