Ceremonial groundbreaking pauses work on New Kensington’s Pioneer Apartments | TribLIVE.com
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Brian C. Rittmeyer

An $18.2 million apartment and office building under construction in New Kensington is the latest example of the city’s revitalization, Mayor Tom Guzzo said at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Wesley Family Services project Thursday.

Work on Pioneer Apartments, a four-story building that will house 36 apartments and offices for more than 100 people, was paused while officials and dignitaries gave their remarks.

New Kensington donated the former parking lot, between 10th and 11th streets and Fourth Avenue and Cherry Alley, where the building is going up.

“This is really a great day for the city of New Kensington. In every corner, you can see progress happening right before your eyes,” Guzzo said. “Our revitalization has been taking positive and forward steps with a variety of businesses.”

That includes the Penn State Corridor of Innovation, the Knead Cafe and the Voodoo Brewery, “and all of the great things happening with our existing businesses,” Guzzo said.

Work on Pioneer Apartments started in June. It’s expected to be ready for occupancy by late spring or early summer 2020.

It will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Several units will be outfitted to accommodate those who have mobility, hearing and vision disabilities or needs.

Rents, based on a percentage of average median income in New Kensington, will range between $200 and $800, said Stephen Christian-Michaels, chief strategy officer for Wesley Family Services.

A nonprofit formed in July 2017 from the merger of Wesley Spectrum and Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, Wesley Family Services provides behavioral healthcare services and support programs to children, adults and families. It has more than 60 programs in the areas of behavioral health, intellectual and development disabilities, community empowerment, aging, specialized education, and family support and preservation.

At Pioneer Apartments, Wesley Family Services will offer programs and services to the building’s residents and local residents.

“The services they provide are vital to our community and to the communities that surround us,” Guzzo said. “The office staff and administration will have their offices here, bringing over 100 people to our downtown every day.”

Providing affordable housing empowers people, Wesley Family Services CEO Doug Muetzel said.

“We know that affordable housing is a key barrier to people reaching their hopes and dreams,” he said.

Pioneer Apartments is funded largely through two tax credit programs — new market tax credits from the Corporation for Supportive Housing and low income housing tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority. It also received grant funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, as well as a no-interest loan from the housing finance authority.

The masonry block for the building’s outer perimeter is 80% finished, said Gary Kirk, a superintendent with Mistick Construction. Block masonry towers for the building’s three stairways and two elevator shafts should be up by the end of next week, and the building’s framing will start going up in mid to late September, Kirk said.

The heavy rain this year often turned the construction site into a swamp, and some bad soil that could not support the building’s weight had to be removed and replaced, Kirk said. The project was slightly behind schedule, but, “the last two weeks have really helped out,” he said.

“We’re having fun,” Kirk said. “People in the area have been very nice. They seem to be encouraged by the activity.”

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