By January 2012, the corner of Larimer Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard will be transformed into an Environment and Energy Community Outreach Center. What was once a gas station and an adjacent vacant lot, will soon exist as a conduit for energy advocacy for residents of the East End of Pittsburgh.
“This visionary concept, the mind child of State Senator Jim Ferlo represents a unique opportunity to combine the collaboration of community, educational, utility, and green stakeholders and augment beneficial productivity to the residents and small business operations in targeted demographic areas,” said Cecelia Jenkins, executive director of Pittsburgh Community Services, Inc., the lead program agency to oversee the functions and operation of the EECO Center.
Nestled at the entry of the Larimer Avenue corridor, collaborators describe the EECO Center as a facility to serve as a common point of entry to residents in need of energy crisis remediation or social services assistance. It is also slated to promote small education and demonstration laboratories which enhance the era of green technologies and projects in the communities of Bloomfield, East Hills, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Homewood, Larimer and Lincoln.
Pleased that the EECO Center will fit well within the community and the collaborative effort to bring it to fruition, Senator Ferlo classified the Center as a “beacon of hope.”
“Cecelia and the staff of Pittsburgh Community Services have vision. Her staff and the URA have worked hard and put a lot of energy into this project,” he acknowledged. “Keep on keeping on.” PCSI has dedicated over $900,000 to staffing and managing the EECO Center since 2010.
Ferlo, PCSI staff, board members, and a mix of community partners and residents were on hand early in October for a ground breaking ceremony for the structure. Others participating in the ceremony included Khalif Ali of PCSI; Rev. Amelia Jones, pastor of New Jerusalem Holiness Church; Fred Brown of the Kingsley Association representing the Larimer Consensus Group; Aftyn Giles; representing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl;Maelene Myers, executive director of the East Liberty Development Inc.; and Rev. Darryl Canady, pastor of Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church.
Though gaining a steady interest in the cutting edge initiative, other PCSI public-private partnerships have included the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and the Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Funding is being secured through numerous sources both local and state, including The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Board, the Hunt Foundation, as well as the Department of Environmental Protections Safe Water Grant program.
Elated to be a part of what Jenkins calls a fearless vision, she said PCSI is glad to provide some of the synergy. She said that the project came about as a result of the Larimer community recently completing a visioning process which identified that the community seeks a safe, clean, strong, diverse, vibrant, healthy and attractive community, with a renewed sense of pride that is a model for inner-city revitalization. One of five stabilization action volunteer teams formed to assist in moving the Larimer community forward was the Larimer Green Team that worked on efforts to address the large areas of vacant land by working with Penn State Extension as well as GTECH on greening initiatives in the neighborhood. The EECO Center will be a “beachhead” for the ongoing efforts.
Technologies currently being considered for the site are efficient envelope, geothermal heating and cooling, solar thermal and solar electric (PV) panels, and micro wind turbines as well as permeable paving and a green roof.
Jenkins indicated that one of the overriding goals of the project is to bring the energy saving and innovative building products that are on the market to customers that would benefit greatly from the cost saving and improved environmental impacts of those products.
“In support of these goals the Center must serve as a ‘living laboratory’ which will demonstrate these products and practices in action,” she said. In addition to demonstrating cost effective energy efficiency strategies the site should serve as an indoor/outdoor classroom demonstrating other green technologies which may not yet be affordable to many residents of the community.
Tentatively PCSI and the collaborative are planning for the center to be a resource and gathering place for green initiatives in the Larimer community with programming to consist of utility consumer education and assistance, green building demonstrations, internship and employment opportunities, a base for energy auditors and to operate their Neighborhood Safety Program.
(PCSI, the Community Action Agency for the City of Pittsburgh, serving city residents who are at or below 125 percent federal poverty guidelines, provides a wide range of services making a positive impact within the communities. For over 25 years the organization has met the needs of its clients in the areas of employment, job training, education, housing, nutrition, and health.)