For years, Ora Lee Carroll, the East End activist who founded East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp. as a vehicle to rebuild Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood, would say she had battled enough politicians and was going to quit and go back home to the South.

But she would always try again, in her blunt, politically incorrect fashion to get funding for development projects—only to be rejected.

GROWING THE COMMUNITY—Convalescing ELCCC Board Chair Ora Lee Carroll is seen here potting plants during her Project Africa campaign.

“She would call people out in public when they didn’t come through for her, state reps, the mayor, the Urban Redevelopment Authority—she didn’t care,” said John Brewer, owner of the Pittsburgh Trolley Station Oral History Center. “So most of the time, they were not inclined to give her money.”

Six months ago, poor health forced Carroll, now living at the Harriet Tubman Guild nursing facility, to quit, leaving the community development corporation she started and nurtured in limbo—until now.

Developer Emmett Miles, owner of E Squared Construction, said Carroll asked him to take over the dormant CDC, and he has agreed to do so.

“She deserves to have someone step up for all the work she’s tried to do in the community. She stayed true to the game,” said Miles. “If I don’t do this who will? So I’m going to see what I can do to take this to the next level and let Ora Lee finally smell the roses while she still can.”

The key focus of the ELCCC under Carroll was The Larimer Plan, a development model including adaptive reuse of vacant lots and properties centered on the former Larimer School. The plan included senior housing and community health care facilities and retail space, but despite interest from state development officials, state Rep. Joe Preston Jr., D-East Liberty and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, Carroll was unable to secure funding.

TAKING THE REINS—Emmett Miles, the new ELCCC director of Development, displays plans for a “green” training and tech center at the former Larimer School.

Miles was a natural choice to take over for Carroll because he purchased the school in 2005 in hopes of using it as a training facility to teach asbestos encapsulation and lead paint remediation techniques to community youths. Now the ELCCC can host the training classes and draw on public funds that Miles, as a private businessman could not. And he has already started.

“I received a $200,000 grant to do training in “green” workforce development from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, and I’ve been training kids in geothermal technology, solar power, rooftop farming. The first 26 graduate June 4,” he said.

Miles has forged partnerships with the Kingsley Association and locals 373 and 1058 of the laborers union to help build a “green” savvy workforce. Also, One Vision One Life is acting as the fiduciary agent for the grant because Miles’ plan has an anti-violence com­ponent.

“I don’t want to see these kids with nothing to do but smoke blunts and get into trouble,” said Miles. “Get them an education, get them a trade—I want to be that second chance. And it’s not just Larimer, I’m talking Homewood, East Hills, and East Liberty. If I bring these neighborhoods together, it could help control the violence.”

The latest plans for the 72,000 square-foot school building is to take the training component into account, while maintaining Carroll’s vision of community health and housing services. It would be green training and tech center, housing a solar panel manufacturing facility, fish and mushroom farms, hydroponic gardens, a day care center and transitional housing services.

“We going to use the vacant land around the school to build net-zero, self-sustaining housing—showing how to live totally off-the-grid,” he said. “I see this as a whole transitional move for Larimer.”

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