Hill YMCA project displays diversity

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While a considerable uproar was raised over the lack of Black workers and contractors on the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center project at the Community College of Allegheny County last year, no such turmoil surrounds the construction of the Thelma Lovette YMCA building in the Hill District. Why—because it was designed to be inclusive.

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MOVING MOUNTAINS—Heavy equipment operator Ricardo Mesbeth preps the site at the Thelma Lovette YMCA project, which he said has the most Black workers he has seen on a site in 15 years. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Every part of opening the new YMCA, from designing the building to hiring swim instructors, is about involving the community,” said construction manager PJ Dick Vice President Rich Perallo. “The new YMCA shouldn’t provide benefits to the community only after construction; it should also be a good business opportunity for minority-owned businesses in the area during construction.”

So far, it has been—and not just with supplier contracts, or landscaping, or waste removal, but with bricklayers, laborers, heavy equipment operators and ironworkers who look like Hill residents. In fact, one of them is.

Mike Williams lives in the Hill and works for PJ Dick and has been a union laborer for 24 years. He’s been on site since the project broke ground in August.

“I was the first worker on the site,” he said. “To see the Hill go from full of businesses to nothing, and now being part of the rebuilding—it’s very special. I’ve worked on some big jobs in the city but haven’t felt such pride as on this one. ”

Ricardo Mesbeth, a 15-year veteran heavy equipment operator from East Pittsburgh, who worked for subcontractor Noralco—and who is now on the Shop ‘n Save site—said it was refreshing to see so many Black faces on the job, especially considering where it is and who it is named for.

“I do a lot of work for an Italian company so on most jobs there’s maybe three or four of us at most,” he said. “This was the most I’ve ever seen since I began working in ’96.”

There is one thing, Mesbeth noted; he did not have to deal with on most job sites—stray gunfire. On at least three occasions, bullets from incidents blocks away have entered the job site.

In December a stray .45 caliber bullet pierced two trailers on the site, it happened again when a trailer was hit four times in as many days in April. As a result an additional wall was built on the site. More recently, kids with BB guns also fired at the site. No one working on site has been injured.

“I was lucky enough not to have been there for that,” said Mesbeth. “Getting shot is not something I usually think about on the job, but hey, I could die falling out of bed in the morning.”

Ironworker Roman Edmunds said after the wall was up and they added security, he wasn’t too worried about it.

“It’s different, but this is a great project,” he said. “It’s about helping the community and I get a feeling of joy knowing I’m a part of it.”

In addition to the men on site, Black companies on the job already account for 23 percent of the contracts issued; among them are Knight Athletic, Butler Landscaping and Emerald Electrical Services.

The building, named for Hill Civil Rights Icon Thelma Lovette is scheduled for completion by November. The 43,000 square-foot facility will house an indoor track, a gymnasium, an aquatic center with a six-lane swimming pool, a wellness center, a multipurpose and senior space, a room geared for teens and a computer lab.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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