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Demolition crews working weekend at Burns Heights

| Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009

Demolition crews will work this weekend to level the Burns Heights housing complex in Duquesne.

Allegheny County Housing Authority hopes to have the vacant 174-unit apartment complex completely down by the end of next week or the beginning of the second week of November to get higher marks from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development when it applies for a Hope VI grant to rebuild the area with 122 units of new single, duplex and triplex housing.

A project's shovel-readiness is one of 10 categories HUD uses to rate applications. Other ratings include capacity, need, community and supportive services, early education and equitable housing opportunities.

Walter McFann, the housing authority's director of real estate investments, said the electronically filed application to HUD is due Nov. 17. He said the authority plans to send it Nov. 10 to allow time to correct any glitches on the form that may be identified by HUD.

So far, demolition crews have removed brick facades from buildings in the complex. The buildings are wrapped with plastic tarps as workers remove asbestos siding panels that were under the bricks. McFann said the asbestos in the buildings is stable because it is in panel form. He said the buildings once contained asbestos that was friable meaning it could have become airborne if it was improperly disturbed and thus presented a risk to public health but it was all removed during an asbestos remediation project in the 1990s.

McFann said Friday that the authority was awaiting clearances from the Allegheny County Health Department to begin tearing down the structures. He said the hope was to have several buildings down by Monday.

Mistick Construction is general contractor for the entire project.

The estimated cost of leveling and rebuilding the neighborhood is around $22 million. State housing tax credits are expected to help generate revenues to fund the project, and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development is expected to contribute $2 million. The authority says it should know whether it is going to receive Hope VI funding by March 2010.

"We're just really in a waiting game for the funding," McFann said.

Duquesne City Manager Frank Piccolino III said the county's accelerated pace on the Burns Heights project "shows there is commitment and that they're going to go through with this the whole way."

"It's going to be a whole new neighborhood up there," Piccolino said, noting that there would be infrastructure improvements such as new roads to accompany the new housing.

He said the investment in the community will spur job growth.

"This is a good thing," he said.

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