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Ceiling collapse at Schenley High clouds building’s future

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, July 11, 2007

By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials will check ceilings throughout Schenley High School after a collapse in a second-floor stairwell yesterday forced the relocation of summer school for about 900 students.

The incident may rekindle debate about the future of the triangle-shaped Oakland landmark, which architects have said would need $55.7 million to $86.9 million in renovations to remove asbestos and address other problems.

A custodian found the fallen ceiling after arriving at work early yesterday.

The district canceled summer school for high school students yesterday and later announced it was relocating the classes to Peabody High School in East Liberty for the duration of the term, which expires July 30.

Schenley hosted summer classes for students from all 10 district high schools.

Classes will operate on the usual schedule. The district today will begin providing shuttle buses at dismissal time to help students get from Peabody to their regular Port Authority bus stops.

District spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said she did not know whether the ceiling collapse released asbestos into the air.

She said tests determined there was no air-quality problem immediately outside the stairwell. But she said no test yet had been performed inside the stairwell, which was enclosed after the ceiling collapse.

Ms. Pugh wasn’t able to say whether Schenley will hold its orientation program for incoming freshmen next month. Each high school is scheduled to hold the orientation, a new program, before the 2007-08 year begins.

The fate of the building, which is more than 90 years old and on the National Register of Historic Places, has been in limbo since November 2005. That’s when school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, citing the high renovation costs, proposed closing the building and moving Schenley High School to the former Reizenstein Middle School building in Shadyside.

He pulled the proposal for further study after students and parents objected, citing Schenley’s storied history and high achievement. Supporters said the school’s location in vibrant Oakland had helped to make its international studies program a success.

Since then, officials have discussed possible financing methods but made no decision, even though they’ve lamented the district’s growing capital costs and the related strain on the operating budget. The recently launched project on districtwide high school improvement could help to determine the building’s future.

(Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548. )

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