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PPS Seeks To Find New Uses For 9 Vacant Schools In A Matter Of Months

Pittsburgh Public Schools has released a request for proposals for the sale and development of nine vacant school buildings and 13 parcels of land. Sale of just the buildings could bring nearly $5 million to the school district's coffers.

Two of the schools, Beltzhoover Elementary and Horace Mann Elementary, have been closed for more than a decade.

Ron Joseph, chief operations officer for the district, said the cost of maintaining the nine vacant buildings was close to $250,000 in 2015.

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Northview Elementary in Northview Heights was built in the 1960s.

“An underoccupied building just represents, in some cases, a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” he said. “If there is some major building failure then the district would be liable for the cost of addressing that issue.”

Many of the buildings had been up for sale for years, but Pat Morosetti of Fourth River Development, which is managing the sales, said the district decided it was time to take a more aggressive approach to getting the properties off the school district’s books entirely.

“We thought an RFP (request for proposals), which is commonly used with public agencies selling assets off, might be a good way to start the new year and see if we can get these moved,” he said.

Among the schools for sale is Horace Mann Elementary in Marshall-Shadeland, which was built in 1874 and has a minimum reserve price of $142,500. Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla said the structure is “built like a battleship” and should be attractive to prospective developers.

“They don’t build them like that anymore,” he said. “It really is a beautiful building on a very nice site. It’s got a view corridor out to the west. It has certain advantages in terms of redevelopment, particularly we think for residential development.”

Fatla contrasted Horace Mann to the 1960s-era construction of Northview PreK-8 in Northview Heights, which he said is energy inefficient and poorly laid out. The asking price for that building is $1.3 million.

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Richard Swartz of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation said residents have expressed a desire to see another school on the site of Fort Pitt Elementary in Garfield.

Also up for sale is Fort Pitt Elementary in Garfield. The structure was built in 1906 and the district is asking for $1.48 million. Richard Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, said community members have said they’d like to see it turned back into a school – perhaps a charter or private school – but are open to mixed uses.

“(It) might also include something like a small environmental center,” he said. “It might include some cultural amenities and facilities that might offer space to budding artists in the area.”

Morosetti said the properties won’t necessarily go to the highest bidder.

“What’s important to the district and has been since they’ve been selling these schools is making sure that someone who comes in and proposes a certain kind of redevelopment has the right design, the right look, the right feel, the right use and it’s also a feasible development,” he said.

Joseph said he encourages developers to reach out to community groups to see what kinds of uses would correlate with existing visions of neighborhood development.

For Fatla, school buildings play an important role in neighborhoods, not only because of their size.

“But also as part of a neighborhood’s memory and attachment,” he said. “Generations went to these schools and they’re part of the emotional landscapes.”

Fatla said doing the “right thing” with a vacant school building can have a major positive impact on a community, while the wrong type of development – or no development at all – can make a school “ the anchor that drags down everybody else.”

All nine schools and 13 parcels are listed on Fourth River Development’s website. Property inspections are scheduled from Jan. 24-26 and proposals are due March 6.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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