Career Training Academy moves from New Kensington to Lower Burrell
After more than 30 years in New Kensington, the Career Training Academy is moving next door to Lower Burrell.
The academy that offers diploma and degree programs in allied health fields like medical and dental assistance will become a tenant of Hillcrest Shopping Center in January.
Kim Rassau, the school's president and CEO, said the academy has outgrown its three-story, century-old building on Fifth Avenue.
Campus Director Michael Discello said the building's lack of an elevator and other accommodations for people with disabilities also was a limiting factor.
Rassau said they “scoured” New Kensington for available properties, but couldn't find a suitable space that didn't need extensive renovations.
A Parnassus native, Rassau said the decision to leave the city was difficult: “We've been deeply rooted in this community for a very long time.”
But the nearly 13,000-foot space available in two adjacent storefronts in the Hillcrest Shopping Center was too perfect to pass up.
“We had the ability to customize our classroom space, instead of us retrofitting into an existing space,” she said.
Not that the new location didn't require intensive work. Rassau and Steven Riffe, director of business development with contractor A.W. McCay, said just about everything in the space is new — the roof, the ventilation system, the electrical work, the plumbing.
“The building has been totally redone,” Riffe said. “We (gutted) it to the block walls.”
The academy is occupying storefronts that once housed a drug store and gold-buying business near the now-vacant Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store.
Crews were plastering and painting the newly installed drywall last week. They worked with portable lights as they waited for the electricity to be connected.
“Our biggest challenge has been the time frame,” Riffe said. The crews began working Oct. 1 and have a deadline of Dec. 18 for the final inspection.
Rassau excitedly walked the corridors, stepping over power cords and ignoring drywall dust as she explained the purpose of about two dozen rooms: classrooms, computer lab, dental lab, radiography lab, assembly area, break room, private student meeting rooms, faculty bullpen, reception area.
Because only about 10,500 square feet of space initially will be built out, there is room to expand at the rear of the storefront, Rassau said.
Academy officials see several opportunities for program expansion at the new Lower Burrell location.
They'd like to reinvigorate the massage therapy programs and offer regular massage clinics to the public that are available at the Career Training Academy's Monroeville and West View campuses. The half-hour, $25 massages sell out quickly, Discello said, and they give students practical experience.
Rassau said they also are looking to partner with other organizations for use of the computer lab.
While academy leaders think the new location will remain convenient to New Kensington residents and current students, they see an opportunity to attract students from the Kiski Valley.
“It gives us a better reach,” Rassau said. “We‘re going to be able to get out in those communities.”
Discello said the nearby restaurants, stores, banks, childcare facilities and bus access will be a convenience to students, and may open up opportunities for part-time jobs.
He said the students' presence also will be an advantage to the shopping center's tenants: “They're very excited there will be about 100 people there in January.”
“We agree that CTA is a win for both (the academy and Hillcrest) and provides good synergy,” said Mara Mrvos, spokeswoman for plaza owner J.J. Gumberg Co.
“Non-traditional uses are a growing trend in shopping centers today,” she added.
In addition to anchor stores like Community Market and Roses discount department store, Hillcrest also is home to Burrell Community Church.
Hillcrest isn't the only local shopping center with a mix of uses: ITT Technical Institute, Riverside Community Church and Legends of Pittsburgh Fitness and Performance Center are some non-retail tenants at the Pittsburgh Mills mall, and the Heights Plaza Shopping Center in Harrison features several UPMC outpatient offices and a new Planet Fitness gym.
Lower Burrell Mayor Don Kinosz welcomed the Career Training Center to the city.
“We're very happy they're coming,” he said. “It's an opportunity — it should help all of the businesses in the surrounding shopping center.”
Fifth Avenue's future
Lower Burrell's gain isn't entirely New Kensington's loss.
John Reddy of Sewickley, the owner of the Career Training Center's Fifth Avenue building, said he already is in talks with an interested tenant.
Reddy believes the building would be suitable for a professional center that caters to attorneys, accountants and engineers, or as a hub for nonprofit organizations.
Reddy said he started the Career Training Academy in its present formation in 1986 along Seventh Street and moved to 950 Fifth Ave. in 1997.
Now 74, he retired and sold the school in 2011.
“I absolutely enjoyed working there. It was more fun and more rewarding than you can imagine,” Reddy said. “I hate to see them leave the town. The town was always very good to me.”
Despite the unfortunate timing — the building is in the area that's been targeted by the Better Block revitalization initiative — New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo has no hard feelings.
“I appreciate all they did. It was a needed school,” he said. “I'm glad they're still going to be able to serve the community.”
Guzzo said he's also fielded several inquiries about the building and is hopeful it won't be vacant long.
“It's a prime piece of property,” he said.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-226-4680.