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Community action group finds new home

| Sunday, July 8, 2001

With its future up in the air for more than a year, the Riverview Community Action Corp. has finally found its new home.

The fact that the agency for senior citizens is moving into the original St. Irenaeus Church along Second Street is beyond ironic for RCAC Executive Director Don Butler.

Leasing a building along Fourth Street from the current St. Irenaeus Church and school, the RCAC reached an impasse over rent and space that sent the agency looking for new quarters.

The existing St. Irenaeus school building is running out of space to the point where a junior high classroom has been added at the expense of the school library.

When the church proposed tripling the rent from $600 to $1,800 a month and taking back two classrooms for the school, Butler knew it was time to start looking elsewhere for a new place.

That's when the Oakmont Women's Club got involved. The service organization has been operating out of the 131-year-old church at 501 Second St.

'Things just kind of came together,' Butler said. 'The ladies of the Women's Club do a lot of volunteer work here at the RCAC, so they knew about our plight.'

The two entities have agreed upon a selling price of $150,000 for the building that includes a brick annex which was added in 1954. Under the agreement, RCAC will put $50,000 down and the remaining $100,000 will be financed.

By owning the building, the RCAC will eliminate the risk that the RCAC took on when it put more than $250,000 into renovations of the building that is now being taken back by the school.

Butler contends that the old school building, which is 75 years old, was on the verge of being condemned when RCAC moved in nearly a quarter century ago and started fixing it up with federal grants through the Allegheny Department of Aging.

And he doesn't feel that congratulations are in order just yet for the acquisition.

'The move is going to be pretty damn chaotic,' Butler said. 'The fact that this is an agency which serves the public adds a whole new dimension. But we'll work to keep the disruptions to a minimum.'

George Ketterer of Oakmont hopes that will be the case. Asked what he likes best about the RCAC, the retired Wilkinsburg High School custodian replies simply, 'the food around here.'

In addition to the 30 senior citizens who are served daily in the cafeteria, the RCAC also prepares 80 home-delivered meals each day. For that reason, the RCAC needs two kitchens at the new facility.

The additional kitchen will be one of the first needs to be addressed, along with handicapped access to the building and the restrooms, as well as partitions for offices.

Local architect Jim Hughes is back on board, having overseen all of the renovations at the old RCAC building, and plans are already in the design phase.

The cost estimate for improvements to the new building is set at $350,000.

'We're looking at six to eight to 10 years before the entire building will be up to speed,' Butler said. 'And there's at least $100,000 worth of work that has to be done now.'

State Rep. Frank Dermody has expressed confidence that the RCAC will be receiving a $150,000 grant from the state Department of Aging's capital assistance program. But that money won't be available until the end of the year.

The Rev. Paul Cwynar, who has been the pastor at St. Irenaeus since 1998, was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment. He earlier cited the 1999-2000 annual report from the Diocese of Pittsburgh which mentioned the importance of finding additional space for a library at St. Irenaeus.

There also are plans for the school's administrative offices going into the former RCAC building, although the boiler will likely have to be replaced and asbestos may have to be removed.

In the meantime, the pool table in the RCAC's activities room has been donated to the Oakmont Elks' Club. And there are plans to bring in a paper shredder for paperwork dating back as far as 20 years.

Butler also disagreed that the RCAC was making the move of its own volition.

'Nothing could be further from the truth,' Butler said. 'And this has been a very divisive issue in this town. We have RCAC board members who also are parishioners at St. Irenaeus.'

Tom Jewell can be reached at or (412) 380-8516.

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