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Group lobbying to save Turtle Creek school building junior high

By Mike Scheinberg
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Members of the Committee to Save Turtle Creek High School are continuing a campaign to block plans to replace the 88-year-old landmark with a new junior high.

They spoke passionately at last week’s school board meeting in favor of renovating the old school, which is now East Junior High School, rather than building a new one.

“The building is sound and in excellent condition,” said Bob Mock, a spokesman for the committee. “We believe renovation of the building would be much more cost-effective. This building is a landmark. It is a slam dunk for national historic preservation.”

Another committee member, Connie Morenzi, said the Woodland Hills School District should not change the outside appearance of the school in any way.

“Turtle Creek residents can’t afford any more taxes,” said Kip Quinlan, a Turtle Creek businessman. “I went to the old Turtle Creek High School, and so did my kids. The district does not need a new building for only about 300 students.”

District officials said earlier that both new construction and renovation would cost between $17 million and $20 million.

However, school district Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Christopher Baker said yesterday it would cost $400,000 more to renovate East than it would for a new construction.

“That’s because architects’ fees are higher for renovation and any change orders would also be higher,” Mr. Baker said.

Speaking in favor of razing the old school, Valerie Pearson, of Braddock, said a new building would have a better environment for the students.

HHSDR Architects of Pittsburgh stated in an August report that the current overall condition of East Junior High is poor. They pointed to problems with the windows, exterior doors, science rooms, auditorium, swimming pool, and many other areas.

Two school board members are still not sold on renovating or building a new school in Turtle Creek.

“We need to take a look at our enrollment and our boundary lines,” said board member Robert Tomasic. “One possibility is to move all of the junior high kids to West [Junior High] and have six elementary buildings for grades K-six.”

Board colleague Fred Kuhn added, “West has a beautiful field, track, tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts, but East has nothing.

“I think we should look at other options.”

The board had considered moving East to the old Eastmont School site or to a site adjacent to Woodland Hills High School on Greensburg Pike, but both of those proposals failed to get the five needed votes.

Board member Randy Lott has supported keeping the school in Turtle Creek all along, saying the community needs a school.

The old Turtle Creek High School was built in 1917 and was renovated in 1978 at a cost of $4 million. In 1981, it merged into the Woodland Hills School District and later became a junior high.

“This building is very important to the community,” said Ronald Yochum, of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. “Sometimes new isn’t always better.”

“Would they tear down the Cathedral of Learning?” Mr. Mock asked of the landmark building on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

More discussion on the building plans is expected at the school board legislative meeting in January.

(Mike Scheinberg is a freelance writer.)

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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