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Workforce becomes issue in Schenley sale

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The outcome of a debate on whether to sell the former Schenley High School in Oakland could depend on perceptions about who would get the jobs to fix it.

Pittsburgh school board member Jean Fink, an ardent supporter of selling Schenley, said on Monday she might vote against the sale because she heard that the prospective buyer, PMC Development Group, used workers from Poland to remove asbestos at the Verizon Building, Downtown.

“One of my happy things with Schenley was that it could be some good jobs for Pittsburgh people,” Fink said.

But Jerry Novick, executive vice president of PMC, said a Pittsburgh contractor did the work at the Verizon Building.

“We didn't import any workers from Poland, nor am I aware of any subcontractors importing workers for the job,” he said.

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to accept the $5.2 million bid from PMC, a Philadelphia real estate group, which wants to convert the building into about 175 luxury apartments. Built in 1916, it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The wobble in Fink's support occurs at a critical time for PMC. The board voted 5-4 in 2008 to close the school. Fink sided with the majority who were concerned about asbestos in the building and the high cost of renovating its mechanical systems.

The four board members who voted to close the school were Bill Isler, Heather Arnet, Theresa Colaizzi and Floyd “Skip” McCrea. Arnet resigned from the board, and her eventual replacement, Regina Holley, has said she is opposed to the sale. Isler could not be reached for comment on how he plans to vote on Wednesday.

Two board members who previously voted against Schenley's closing, Tom Sumpter and Mark Brentley Sr., said they will vote against the sale to PMC.

McCrea said he is aware of union concerns about who does the work.

“It makes a difference, but I'm between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I'll make up my mind when I get there (Wednesday).”

Colaizzi confirmed her support of the sale. “We got a very good opportunity from a company to get it back on the tax rolls.”

Board President Sharene Shealey replaced Randall Taylor on the board in 2009. Taylor voted against closing Schenley. Shealey said she has not decided how she will vote, but she was intrigued by an announcement from state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, that he favors the sale.

Ferlo questioned whether the previous administration inflated estimates to fix the building. The district argued that keeping the school open was too costly.

“With a respected housing developer with assets in seven states ready to take on the challenge, now is the time to move forward and allow this development to be the spark North Oakland needs to encourage more private investment,” he said.

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

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