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Philly group posts highest bid for Schenley school

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 3:36 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Ira Weiss, Pittsburgh Public School's solicitor reads bids to buy the former Schenley High School during a meeting at the administration offices in Oakland on Friday, January 18, 2013. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

The highest bidder to buy the former Schenley High School in Oakland wants to convert the historic building into luxury apartments.

Philadelphia-based PMC Property Group Inc. submitted a $5.2 million bid for Schenley, which Pittsburgh Public Schools closed in 2008 because it would be too expensive to renovate and remove asbestos. The bid was higher than those from two bidders who want to open a school there and another who envisions apartments.

“We're excited about the chance to develop this landmark building,” said Jerry Novick, a PMC spokesman. “It's a great building for adaptive reuse.”

Ira Weiss, the district's solicitor, said it will use the amount of the bid and other criteria to determine which bid to accept.

“One of the most important things we'll look at is whether the bidder can complete the project,” Weiss said. “The bottom line is, we don't want to sell it and then have it sit there vacant because a developer doesn't have the means to follow through with their plans.”

PMC owns the Kenmawr Apartments in Shadyside, 201 Stanwix in Downtown, the Penn Garrison Lofts in the Cultural District and apartment buildings in Philadelphia and six other states.

Kossman Development Co., which represents Provident Charter Schools, bid $4.6 million for the building with a plan to open it as a charter school for children in grades two through eight with dyslexia.

Students from across the state could attend the school, which would devote 54 percent of the building's space for student housing, said Curtis Kossman.

The most visible push to buy Schenley came from alumni who wa nt to open a private or charter high school called the Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Art, which would emphasize visual, audio and digital arts education. The group bid $4.1 million.

Ralph Falbo, who graduated from Schenley in 1955, submitted a bid of $4 million, the minimum acceptable to buy the building. Falbo wants to convert the structure into a high-end apartment building with 99 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedroom units.

Schenley was built in 1916 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Following the bid opening, city Controller Michael Lamb sent a letter to Superintendent Linda Lane and the school board urging them to reconsider the decision to close the school.

“The board should not only take its time with this decision, but also review information that has been made available since the decision to close Schenley to determine the cost effectiveness and impact on student achievement of that closure.”

District officials will review the bids and make a recommendation to Lane. The school board is scheduled to vote on the matter Feb. 27, Weiss said.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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