Former funeral home slated for use as day care center
Penn Hills - A former Penn Hills funeral home could be getting new life once municipal officials give the necessary approval to make it a day care facility.
Last year, the planning commission recommended approval of an application to convert the former McCabe Funeral Home at Frankstown Road and Hochberg Avenue to senior citizen housing, but that applicant never purchased the property and those plans didn't materialize, said Penn Hills Principal Planner Chris Blackwell.
That's when Venetta Greenhowe stepped into the picture. For the past four years she has operated the Tiny Tots Learning Center out of her home, and now plans to expand the facility to accommodate 38 children.
"We gave approval for the senior citizen care, which fell through, and then we found this buyer," said Penn Hills Planning Commission Chairman Al V. Papa Jr.
"Since we've already given approval for one conditional use, it's really not a stretch to approve for a second," Papa continued. "She's closed on the property and she's prepared to go forward."
Consideration of the conditional use could come at the planning commission's January meeting.
Greenhowe plans to call it the Kids of Character Learning Center, a before and after school program, as well as a summer reading camp, to be sponsored in partnership with the Allegheny County Literacy Council.
While she views the project initially as a challenge, Greenhowe, a former inspector for state care homes, believes there are other funeral homes that have been converted to day care uses.
"I'm going to have to make it look inviting," Greenhowe noted, saying that part of the reason she thinks she got the building in the first place was that other prospective buyers may have been intimidated.
She was pleased to learn that there are no major concerns about the presence of residual chemicals, since the former funeral home did its embalming elsewhere.
The first order of business will be new windows and carpeting in the massive house, which was built around 1920 and has a total of 6,200 square feet of space — with 2,500 square feet on the first floor alone. The upstairs consists primarily of living quarters.
In his recommendation for approval of Greenhowe's application, Blackwell notes that there also is a covered area in the rear of the building that is proposed for outdoor play. He added that Greenhowe has already submitted building drawings labeling each room with intended use, square footage and number of children proposed for activities.
The retired state inspector also plans to apply for at least three grants:
= A grant that provides $15,000 a year for new equipment for each care worker hired who is somehow classified as "disabled," as long as they work 20 hours a week. Greenhowe is looking at a refrigerator, stove, freezer, five computers, printers, desks and a projection TV.
= A state Child Care Challenge Grant, which requires a 25 percent match for up to $1 million.
= A Child Care Capacity Grant available through Child care Partnerships that is good for as much as $10,000 in equipment and will fund construction projects on a 50-50 match.
While the municipal planning department is recommending approval of the zoning application, one of the requirements would be to build a sidewalk on Hochberg Avenue.
As a nonprofit day care center, Howe has already applied successfully for a $110,000 grant to fund a junior field trip program, providing 26 informational excursions to the Carnegie museums and science center, the Washington, Pa., Trolley Museum and the Air Heritage Museum.
Day-care centers are a conditional use in all residential zoning districts and require a recommendation from the planning commission and approval from the mayor and council.