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Measure proposed to archive Pittsburgh's scattered documents

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Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Paperwork detailing Pittsburgh's 250-year history is scattered unprotected among dozens of city offices, but that would change under legislation a city councilman intends to introduce on Tuesday.

Councilman Patrick Dowd of Highland Park said his bill would establish a commission to set policy for how the city should archive its historic documents.

“Right now, there is no consistent policy across city government for how we deal with city records,” Dowd said. “These are public records, and they're public property.”

The commission would be chaired by City Clerk Linda Johnson-Wasler and staffed by city department heads and experts in historic preservation and archiving.

“It's tremendously important (to preserve city records), not only for documenting how things come about in the government, but for generations to come,” said Michael Kraus, curator of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

But the task can be expensive. Dowd said he wouldn't know how much it might cost the city until the commission determines what should be done.

“The price could be really expensive,” Kraus said, “depending on if you're doing scanning or digital, or hiring people to manage it.”

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the legislation seems to be in line with Ravenstahl's commitment to historic preservation.

Dowd, a former history teacher, said staff members recently discovered hundreds of boxes and files in the basement of a city office building on Ross Street.

“These documents are scattered all over city government,” he said. “They're not only important for historic purposes, but they're important for day-to-day operational purposes.”

In the Ross Street building, he found a 1930 drawing of flood-prone Washington Boulevard at Allegheny River Boulevard with a proposed roundabout that would have allowed traffic to flow in a circle through the intersection with entrance and exit lanes for the two streets. Traffic lights control the intersection today.

Dowd has advocated for changes to alleviate a backup of water at the intersection. A roundabout could be one way of doing that he said.

“That's a perfect example of historic value and practical every-day value,” he said. “Why were they proposing revisions to that intersection? Was there flooding that occurred there 82 years ago?”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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