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Pittsburgh school board approves sale of former Schenley High School

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:20 p.m.

The former Schenley High School in Oakland, whose graduates include pop artist Andy Warhol, Nobel laureate Clifford G. Shull and basketball star DeJuan Blair, will be turned into about 175 luxury apartments.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board voted, 5-4, on Wednesday night to accept a $5.2 million bid from PMC Property Group, a Philadelphia real estate firm, for the historic building.

Board members Theresa Colaizzi, Jean Fink, Sherry Hazuda, William Isler and Floyd “Skip” McCrea voted to approve the sale. Board President Sharene Shealey and Mark Brentley Sr., Regina Holley and Tom Sumpter voted no. By the same vote, supporters of the sale voted against a motion to delay it.

“I'm counting on good jobs for good Pittsburgh workers and getting this grand old lady re-purposed for 90 more years of useful life,” Fink said.

Sumpter wondered why the rush. He said the district might get more money if it were to delay the sale.

Hazuda, who voted against Schenley's closing, said, “To say we're doing this too quickly, we've been doing this for the five years I've been on the board.”

The vote disappointed Schenley advocates like Jet Lafean, whose father graduated from the high school.

“It's a shame the school board is a nonpaying position. ... They destroyed the school system,” said Lafean, who lives near the school in Schenley Farms and spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to stop the school closing.

The school opened in 1916 as the most expensively built high school in the country. Over the years, it became one of the most popular schools in the city but became embroiled in controversy the past five years.

The school board voted in 2008 to close it by a 5-4 vote because of concerns about asbestos and the estimated $76 million cost of renovations, concerns that many residents such as Lafean questioned.

Schenley's last day — June 10, 2008 — was marked by hugs and roses, one for each of its 92 years. Despite the beauty of its triangular facade of Indiana limestone, the school has wilted to a mass of falling tiles and a litter of paint chips and broken plaster.

The board rejected a 2011 attempt by PMC to buy the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, then voted last year to put it up for bid again.

Last month, the school board asked for two new estimates on the cost to remove asbestos and update mechanical systems. On Feb. 15, the administration released estimates ranging from $53.2 million to $59.4 million.

Edward Alexei, a 1988 graduate, led an effort from alumni who bid $4.1 million to make Schenley a private or charter school specializing in visual, audio and digital arts technology. He dismissed the district's complaints of facing a “fiscal crisis” for not fixing Schenley. He said the district's finances are fine if it caps spending and uses some of its capacity to borrow money.

“They're driving students and people away from the city,” Alexei said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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