Tuesday, April 05, 2005

South High School - getting a new lease on life, we hope

A requested zoning change and a conditional use application involving redevelopment plans for South Hills High School received unanimous approval March 22 from the City Planning Commission in their positive recommendation to City Council.

The now vacant high school building was built in 1916 and closed to students in 1986. Plans call for renovation for residential and limited commercial use.

A previous hearing on March 8 drew about a dozen Mount Washington residents who said the plans, if realized, would increase tax revenue, create more jobs and attract more young families to move to the area. “Most of Mount Washington seemed to support this,” Bob Reppe, zoning administrator, told the planning board at their more recent meeting.

A number of schools are sitting around, idle. We should look to turn the hardest to use properties into projects that are put at the front of the line. The easy projects should be mothballed as possible schools for the future.


Anonymous said...


Adaptive Reuse

I went to an engineering school, with an engineering mindset, and one important component of that mindset is the following axiom:

"There is always a solution that is elegant, effecient, obvious, simple AND completely wrong"

Mark Rauterkus demonstrates that this axiom does not only apply to engineering problems, but also to public policy positions. He starts talking about the reuse of South High School as it is getting a new lease on life and use. This is fine, I know that South has some major structural/health/safety problems, but it could be solveable for a net community benefit.

And then he goes crazy: "A number of schools are sitting around, idle. We should look to turn the hardest to use properties into projects that are put at the front of the line. The easy projects should be mothballed as possible schools for the future."

This would be a good idea if the school age population of the city was growing at greenfield suburban rates. It would be a good idea if the city was flush with cash. It would be a good idea if the buildings were modern and did not have asbestos, lead, and general structural neglect/deferred maitenance problems. It would be a good idea in an alternative universe.

Adaptive reuse of old buildings that were single purposed when built is a pain in the butt. There are the basic structural problems, most likely construction technique and material problems, and then just the general cost of safely renovating a space. From my experience in grad school a couple of years ago, and working on a couple of quick and dirty projects since then, it is often cheaper/more effective to build new than to refurbish pre-WWII buildings to code. It is not easy. To quote the President "It's hard work."

And when the hard work is justified, the projects that should be undertaken first are not the most difficult projects but the easiest projects with the highest ROI. It is almost a given that during any project you'll get hit with at least one "WTF?", and the easiest projects tend to have a lower rate of WTF.

Mark Rauterkus said...

First off, understand that Vo Tech Education in the city schools is a failure. There is no school for many of the trades. So Vo Tech closed. The kids are not getting what they should in these areas. The district's policy on Vo Tech Education has been floundering for the past decade. South, when it was open, was always supposed to close.

But, South Side's South High is NOT the same as South Hills High. Two different schools. Two different histories.

The property on the South Side at South Vo Tech is TOO VALUABLE to be resued ONLY as housing.

Furthermore, the property in other reaches of the city that are in residential neighborhoods -- and are sitting idel -- NEED to be put at the front of the class and turned into housing.

Some neighborhood need more help than others. They should get that attention.

If we convert the top locations into senior housing -- then the marginal buildings won't ever be done.

I don't like the idea of the rich get richer -- and -- The poor get poorer.

Because the city is NOT flush with cash, it makes sense to keep some of the best properties in a casual usage state.

Stewardship is hard work.

Reuse is hard work too.

The market place can do the ROI. But -- but the ROI on a public project is harder to measure.

Taken another way: You have two hours to study for two exams to occur the next day. One exam is hard, while the other is easy. Do you devote the full period of your time to the subject that is the easy A+ -- and igore what is much more difficult.

Any moron could sell South Vo Tech for pennies on the dollar, learn nothing and never get to Knoxville's vacant school.

A true champion of the community would work hard on Knoxville now, learn valued lessons, make that neighborhood get an asset.

And, by doing the easy one first -- the harder deals will NEVER occur.

I don't want bad decisions being rushed into with our schools and how they interplay with our communities.

Stewardship matters greatly. If Pittsburgh is to thrive again, splendid community schools will be part of the overall solution.

You can take your experience in grad school and shove it into your "quick and dirty" solution transformer. They we'll have quick and dirty community assets as outcomes.

McSchools -- simple -- elegant -- but no thanks.

Every school does NOT need to be built like CAPA (downtown's new performing arts high school). Nor should schools be like the treatment South Vo Tech got (next to nothing).