School Board drops idea of acquiring August Wilson Center

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Mark Brentley

Mark Brentley Sr.

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A western Pennsylvania school district has abandoned the idea of acquiring Pittsburgh’s struggling August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley Sr. had been trying to come up with a plan for the district to take over the center, but he said he was giving up on the effort at a board meeting Thursday night.

The center honoring the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who grew up in Pittsburgh and is best known for his 10-play cycle that chronicles Black life in America, opened to great fanfare in a new 65,000-square-foot building in 2009. Proponents hoped that such a grand venue for theatre, dance and music would further aid the transformation of the city formerly known for its steel mills.

But the center was hampered by poor attendance and struggled with budget deficits. A judge recently approved selling off the building to settle a mortgage default and other debts totaling about $10 million.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who questioned the district’s proposed acquisition two weeks ago, praised the school board for abandoning the idea.

“It was the right decision, from a fiscal responsibility point of view,” he said. “Unless somebody pays for it, donates it, I don’t see how it would do anything but make district finances even worse.”

DePasquale told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the proposal will not be included in the audit report he expects to issue by next February on the 24,525-student district, which is projected to run out of money in 2016.

Court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald said she was sorry the proposal had been abandoned. She said a few other parties have looked at the center but declined to name them.

“I’m hoping some entity can come forward and keep the mission of the August Wilson Center going,” she said.

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