Thursday, August 25, 2011
In the market for an old school building? The Pittsburgh Public Schools may have just the deal you're looking for.
Last night, the city school board unanimously adopted a new policy for the sale of 17 former school buildings, including Oakland's beloved Schenley High School. The policy, which requires that requests for proposals and bid submissions be finalized by the end of this calendar year, is designed to help the school district dig itself out of a projected $68 million deficit.
According to the three-page resolution, "[T]he cost of maintaining [mothballed] buildings has become prohibitive and places undue strain on the finances and maintenance capacity of the District, which is in the midst of a severe budgeting crisis."
"Hopefully we will get a significant number of these off our books," district solicitor Ira Weiss told the board during last night's monthly legislative meeting.
While the district will not accept bids based solely on purchase price, preference will be given to bids that at least cover "the existing debt service attributable to the building," according to the policy. The district will also evaluate proposals based on how they may help the "long-term financial stability of the School District"; their "effect on student enrollment"; their "expansion of the tax base"; and their "impact on the surrounding community."
Schenley High School is arguably the most notable school building included on the list of buildings for sale. Despite parent and community outrage, the school board voted 5-4 in 2008 to close the historic high school after it was determined by administration officials that repairing the asbestos-plagued building would cost roughly $80 million. The move helped spearhead former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's high school reform efforts.
Another school on the list: Hazelwood's former Burgwin Elementary. Burgwin, you may recall, became the subject of intense controversy after the district ignored an offer to buy the building for $350,000 from someone affiliated with a charter school company.
In a November 2009 e-mail, URA real-estate director Kyra Straussman told the bidder that district policy prohibits considering "charter-school proposals for the reuse of closed Pittsburgh public schools." The board eventually scrapped that policy in early 2010, after it was criticized by charter-school advocates.
Weiss and school-board members acknowledged that some of the 17 buildings may be more marketable than others. And according to the resolution, "In the event an acceptable proposal is not received by the School District, the Board may consider demolition of the structure."
"We need to get rid of them," school-board member Jean Fink tells City Paper. "The buildings are a financial drain on us."
Other structures that may go on the block include:
Fink notes that buildings like Reizenstein (which won't be available until next fall), in East Liberty, and Schenley would attract lots of interest, even though the latter may require significant remediation. Reizenstein, she says, is perfectly located in a burgeoning neighborhood.
"Wouldn't that make a beautiful hotel?"
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