ShareThis Page

Pittsburgh-area groups finalize merger, preserve river-focused programs

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, 2:36 p.m.
RiverQuest, a floating science classroom that area students use to study the rivers, leaves its dock on the North Shore on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
RiverQuest, a floating science classroom that area students use to study the rivers, leaves its dock on the North Shore on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.

The 90-foot floating science lab known for using Pittsburgh's rivers as its teaching platform will be back in action this fall, thanks to a nonprofit merger 18 months in the making.

After nearly folding in June 2014, the North Side-based nonprofit RiverQuest will become part of Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., a Homestead-based nonprofit that aims to preserve Western Pennsylvania's natural, historical and recreational resources. The two boards on Friday announced the final approval of the business plan detailing the merger, which officials say will preserve RiverQuest's educational programs while expanding the reach and scope of Rivers of Steel through paid tours.

The two entities join an increasing number of nonprofits contemplating mergers and other forms of strategic partnerships. In 2015, twice as many nonprofits — or about a dozen a month — approached The Forbes Funds, a nonprofit consulting arm of The Pittsburgh Foundation, with interest in exploring mergers than in 2014.

Though RiverQuest as an entity will be dissolved, the merger will further its two-decade “mission of teaching the importance of our rivers and the unique ecology and environment of our waterways,” said RiverQuest President Jim Roddey. Since its inception in 1995, RiverQuest has hosted field trips for more than 100,000 children from 256 schools in 13 counties. Lessons ranged from collecting water and mud samples and analyzing the contents under microscopes to learning about water conservation and protection amid the natural gas drilling boom.

RiverQuest's financial woes coincided with school districts' tightening budgets. It finished the fiscal year ending June 2014 with a $220,000 deficit — despite slashing expenses from $2.1 million in 2013 to $1.28 million, tax records show.

Rivers of Steel spends $1.26 million annually and finished the year ending December 2013 with a $465,000 surplus and $5.1 million in net assets.

The state must approve the legality of the Rivers of Steel merger, which involves usurping all of RiverQuest's assets — namely, its boat last valued at about $2.5 million. RiverQuest will go out of business debt-free, Roddey said. Its 12 full-time employees will receive severance packages and can apply for jobs at Rivers of Steel.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and an anonymous foundation put $30,000 toward the business plan, and Rivers of Steel is seeking other funding to ease the transition. Officials will pay close attention to the financial state of the merged organization to ensure the move doesn't “ultimately end up bringing down two operations,” said August Carlino, president and CEO of Rivers of Steel.

“The transition is going to need a considerable amount of money and support for us to pull this thing off,” Carlino said. “We know, and the foundations know, that we've got to be very aggressive in how we use this boat, not only for educational programs that we want to start back up again but for other uses. We've got a lot of work to do.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.