All four Black members of the Pittsburgh School Board voted against selling the historic Schenley High School Building. But that was only enough to lose the 5-4 vote.
The Feb. 27 vote gives the go-ahead to PMC/Schenley HSB Associates LP to begin converting the building into luxury rental apartments in exchange for $5.2 million high bid.
Mark Brentley, who continued to argue that the building’s 2008 closing was based on inflated asbestos abatement estimates and renovation costs, called the vote racial. He also praised alumnus Edward Alexei for his team’s failed bid to turn the school into a private art school.
Regina Holly, who convinced the board to authorize two new cost studies on renovating the building for district use, said she still did not want to “give up on the building,” adding that nothing would prevent the new owners from reselling the building to a university and negating the tax advantages the PMC plan projects. Both projections, however, exceeded $50 million.
Thomas Sumpter, whose district includes the building, said he thought they could get a better price for the building and that the rushed decision amounted to a “sell out.”
Sherry Hazuda, however, noted that the Schenley building’s closing, possible renovation, re-evaluation and sale had been board business for four years. For instance, in 2011 the board tried to sell the building and received only one bid, for $1 million, from PMC.
Jean Fink echoed her previous comments that the district needed both the sale money and the tax revenue a commercial property would generate, adding that the project will also mean good paying jobs for local workers.
Jobs, in fact took up much of the discussion time during a Feb. 26 board meeting on the PMC bid, when Fink said she had heard PMC imported Polish workers to remove asbestos from the Verizon building which it bought and renovated.
PMC Executive Vice President Jerry Novick, who made the company’s final bid presentation the previous week, said that was not so.
“We didn’t import any workers from Poland,” he said. “Nor am I aware of any subcontractors importing workers for the job.”
PMC’s plan for Schenley calls for spending $36 million to transform the 1918 building’s interior into as many as 178 apartments, its architecturally significant exterior will remain untouched. Though the sale includes the entire 4-acre site there are no specific plans for the 1988 pool and gymnasium addition, although the gym could become a health center for residents.
The project is eligible for, and will likely receive, historic tax credits from the National Park Service. The credits will reduce renovation costs, but historic preservation requirements may also limit the number of apartments that can be built.
(Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)