October 20, 2011
Dear General Wagner,
I am writing you today as a citizen, and former Pittsburgh Public Schools Board Member, to express my great concern about the sale of a public asset. I am writing about the proposed sale of the former Florence Reizenstein Middle School to the development company Walnut Capital. I believe that this sale would constitute an irresponsible stewardship of public assets by the Pittsburgh School Board and Administration. And that it should be stopped for the following reasons:
1) According to Allegheny County Assessment Office the Building and Land is worth $22,920,500.00
2) Sole Bidder bid $5,700,000.00
3) Bidder announced plans for $119,000,000.00
4) Bidder has history of seeking tax exemptions, thereby reducing or eliminating tax revenues to City, State, and School District.
5) There was only ONE Bidder
6) Bidding process was "fast-tracked". A shorter bidding process from other buildings for sale.
7) Property is within an area (East Liberty) that has seen great economic investment in the last 10 years(A Target store opened 3 months ago)
8) Board did not properly (only locally) advertise this property for sale.
9) Bidder developed property across the street from school.
10) Property not appraised by a least 3 appraisers.
11) School building only 30 years old.
12) School building is used for many community activities.
13) Building is modern facility with large gymnasium, pool, and air conditioning.
I believe that this property should remain a school. There is currently one proposed charter school for East End of Pittsburgh with of others likely. I believe the property's continued use as a school is highly possible and, most likely in the future, necessary.
Furthermore, the Reizenstein building is a valuable asset to the East End of Pittsburgh community. This building, because of its central location and access to public transportation is a natural meeting place. Its gymnasium and pool are used by many groups and organizations. It even housed the Pittsburgh Public Schools"Summer Dreamers" education program for hundreds of students.
The taxpayers of the city have invested tens of millions of dollars in this building and property. They should have every right to expect the property to be put to the best use for students and, if this property is to be sold, to receive the maximum amount possible. This sale should be halted for the purpose of determining if this has occurred.
Looking back over the years, I also believe the handling of this property to be a prima facie case(s) of, not only wasting precious tax dollars, but of NO fiscal planning by the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
I placed before the Pittsburgh School Board in April 2008 a resolution to cancel the planned move of students from the closed Schenley High School to the Reizenstein Building. $10 million dollars was slated to be spent to make the facility more appropriate for High Schools students. However, the Board knew at that time the move would be temporary because Business Affairs Director stated "that to make building permanent home for High School students would cost $40 million in upgrades". I asked Board to move those students to an existing High School. The Pittsburgh School Board voted my resolution down. In May of this year, the Pittsburgh School Board voted to send Reizenstein students to that very same existing High School. Yet, it does not end there.
The East End of Pittsburgh is an area that is experiencing great commercial and residential development (Coincidentally, the bidders for Reizenstein are proposing a $119 million dollar residential development). The communities of Garfield, East Liberty, and Highland Park are all doing significant building of new homes. Even the struggling communities of Larimer and Homewood have plans and funding and are beginning long overdue community re- development. We are already seeing many new families moving into the East End of Pittsburgh, and I believe many, many more will follow. What if the School District of Pittsburgh finds, in a few short years, that there is a need to build a new school for the new families? A new school will cost at minimum $40 million dollars. The East End also has many schools that are over 90 years old. How long will it be before it becomes cost prohibitive to maintain and upgrade these buildings? How long will it be before these buildings are obsolete? The Reizenstein property would provide a large parcel of flat land in an attractive location. If a new building is ever constructed the existing sports facilities might well be incorporated at significant savings. The lack of planning may cost the taxpayers of the city and state tens of millions of dollars.
I am writing to ask your office to intervene and investigate the sale of this building. I believe that tens of millions of public dollars are at stake. Yet, most importantly we are facing the loss of a building that has helped to enrich the educational experience of thousands of students. I believe that a building with excellent amenities make for a well-rounded education. Pittsburgh has long believed that well maintained facilities are important to a child's education. We have long believed in the importance of pools for our children to learn to swim and large gyms and fields for them to play and grow strong. This current Pittsburgh School Board has forgotten this. My hope is that you will us here in Pittsburgh to remind them.
Former Pittsburgh School Board Director, District #1