Study: Close 16 city school buildings; Maintenance costs, declining enrollment cited

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With the cost of maintaining 76 school buildings, 48 built before 1940 and 15 built before 1910 becoming unmanageable with enrollment projected to decline by 5,000 in 10 years, Ohio consulting firm DeJong Inc. is recommending the Pittsburgh Public School close 16 buildings, 13 of them next year.

The study did not take academic program success into account, only conditions and enrollment. It projects a possible savings of $300 million over 10 years.

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NUMBERS—Pittsburgh School Director Dara Ware Allen pores over a report by consultant DeJong Inc. recommending the district close 16 schools.

The firm’s study recommends closing two high schools, Peabody and Oliver, moving students to magnate programs or to Westinghouse or to Langley, respectively. The plan would also close:

•Arlington PreK-8 Primary Campus, moving students to the Intermediate Campus;

•Faison Intermediate Campus, moving PreK-5 students to the Primary Campus and 6-8 students to Westinghouse;

•Fulton PreK-5, moving students to Fort Pitt PreK-5;

•Homewood Early Childhood Center, moving students to a new ECC at Belmar;

•Lincoln K-8 (at Belmar), moving K-5 to Lincoln Primary Campus and 6-8 students to Westinghouse;

•Manchester PreK-8, students moving to King PreK-8;

•McCleary Early Childhood Center, students moving to Arsenal PreK-5 and Belmar ECC;

•Morrow PreK-5, students moving to Northview PreK-5 and Rooney K-8;

•Roosevelt PreK-5 Primary Campus, students moving to Roosevelt Intermediate Campus;

•Schaeffer K-8 Primary Campus, students moving to Schaeffer K-8 Intermediate Campus;

•Schiller 6-8, students moving to Classical 6-8;

•Vann K-5, students going to Miller PreK-5 and Weil PreK-8;

•Woolslair K-5, Students moving to Arsenal PreK-5;

•McNaugher, program moving to Oliver building; and

•Student Achievement Center, program moving to Oliver building.

In total, the plan, which would be implemented in three phases, would affect 35 schools. With such proposals coming just three years after the district closed 22 schools in 18 buildings, Roosevelt said he expects some “turmoil and disgruntlement.”

School Director Mark Brentley is clearly disgruntled. He said he asked for evaluations of the effectiveness of the previous “right sizing” effort and has been repeatedly ignored.

“It’s nothing new in terms of this administration,” said Brentley. “Jean Fink’s district in the West End is largely untouched, while the communities in the Hill, North Side and East End have to deal with another disruption,” he said. “I was getting frantic calls from residents before I even went to the meeting.”

Thom Sumpter said the study is just that, a tool to help the district make smart planning choices.

“This isn’t the gospel, it’s not cast in stone,” he said. “It’s a tool, with an index to compare buildings, grading the level of repair they need, looking at demographics—it’s baseline data to help us figure where to go. This is a 700-page analysis, so it will take some time to digest and evaluate. So, those closings it recommends for 2010—that’s not happening.”

(Send comments to cmorrow @newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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