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Urban Academy leaders hope a new community center could bring more investment to Larimer

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
School leaders say the community center would be part of a larger effort to revitalize the area. Many of Larimer’s businesses moved out of the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Urban Academy will share plans for a new community center in Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood with the city’s zoning board on Thursday.

The charter school is seeking a special exception from the area’s residential zoning code in order to proceed with its construction plans at 123 Meadow Street. If the proposal passes, the project would move on to a public bidding process for contractors.

School leaders say the community center would be part of a larger effort to revitalize the area. Many of Larimer’s businesses moved out of the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s.

K. Chase Patterson, Urban Academy’s CEO, said because of that, the area was a “blank slate” when the school relocated there in 2016.

“While there are deep roots here — there are a number of residents that have been here for decades — the community has been disinvested in. It has been disenfranchised,” Patterson said.

Patterson wants the school to serve as a catalyst for revitalizing the predominantly Black community there. Urban Academy has purchased 19 parcels in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We came, we invested, we're committed. We bought, we purchased — we're continuing to purchase — and we're going to build,” Patterson said. “And I think being able to center students at that work, particularly Black students, allows for the community to not [only] see us as as a player in the game, but as a driver in the revitalization of the community.”

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The school purchased 123 Meadow Street in 2020 from the Pittsburgh chapter of Omega Psi Phi. The fraternity was the first international fraternal organization to be established at a historically black college or university.

The local chapter purchased the Larimer home in 1992 to serve the needs of the community’s African American young men. As a high schooler, Patterson visited the building as part of the fraternity’s HBCU programming for students.

While Omega Psi Phi did renovate the building during its time there, Donna Jackson of the Larimer Consensus Group said the building required more extensive rehabilitation than the organization could provide.

Patterson, who is also the chair of the Larimer Consensus Group’s board, said Urban Academy is ready and financially able to take that task on, and its development activities presentation to community members was met with a positive response.

The school plans to furnish the building with a community demonstration kitchen, art gallery and meeting spaces for residents to use, as well as administrative offices for some of the school’s personnel.

While many local groups meet at the Kingsley Association, located just a short walk away from Meadow Street, Jackson said the community needs more options, especially now that it’s in the final stages of its Choice Neighborhoods affordable housing development. Private developers, too, are looking to build more housing in the area.

“A lot of the buildings and businesses that were [for] social gatherings have been taken down. So, now it's time,” she said.

If the zoning board grants its approval, the team behind the community center said construction could be complete by early fall.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.