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McKeesport Invests in Itself

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The mayor calls it a renaissance. The school superintendent calls it a revitalization. Both agree that more than $80 million worth of construction and upgrades will make Mc-Keesport a more attractive city.

The school district is expected to break ground this summer on its $46.4 million plan to build two new elementary/intermediate schools and renovate a third. The first of three public hearings for that plan began yesterday.

“It’s going to revitalize the entire community,” said Michael Brinkos, superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District.

Mayor James Brewster said having new schools would help with retention.

“When most people go buy a home, they look at the school district first,” he said. “We want our schools to be attractive for someone who is considering a move to our city.”

With upwards of $40 million in infrastructure upgrades throughout Downtown Mc-Keesport, Mr. Brewster said he hoped more businesses would be attracted to the city. “I’m … trying to sell this city to businesses,” said Mr. Brewster, who worked as vice president of retail operations at Mellon Bank for 27 years before entering public service.

The city’s projects are funded mostly by state and federal dollars, according to city clerk Patricia Williams, and include:

• $1.1 million face-lift to West Fifth Avenue

• $1.3 million Streetscape Project

• $540,000 improvement to the walking trail

• $700,000 Marshall Drive Extension

• $33 million Mansfield Bridge renewal.

Improvements to the walking trail and the Marshall Drive Extension were completed in May, the W. Fifth Avenue and Streetscape efforts are under way, and work on the Mansfield Bridge will begin in 2011.

City Controller Ray Malinchak agrees “those things need attention. … We have to make the city more attractive.”

The work being done along West Fifth Avenue involves the removal of old streetcar tracks and resurfacing the Tenth Ward between Rebecca and John streets. Donegal Construction Corp. is assigned to the job.

The Streetscape project is designed to renew Fifth Avenue throughout the city’s business district and seeks to make the avenue a two-way street between the Palisades and Coursin Street. The street will be widened, the curb lines will be moved back, new asphalt will be poured, and a new sidewalk will be added as needed.

New lighting, benches, planters, signs, handicap ramps, catch basins and gas lines also are included in the work, which is being done by Power Contracting Co. of Carnegie. Traffic signals also are being added at Market and Walnut streets.

Finished last month, the Marshall Drive Extension adds a traffic signal and links Haler Heights to Route 48, providing a safer passage for Serra Catholic High School students and patrons of Tom Clark Chevrolet.

The work was done by 12th Congressional Regional Equipment Co. Inc., a Blairsville nonprofit created by the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, who wanted to use excess military equipment for local government projects.

Upgrades to the walking trail include improved parking areas, signs, lane striping and the completion of a trail cul-de-sac at the point where the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers meet. The trail is part of the Great Allegheny Passage, a network of hiking and biking trails spanning 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md.

The trail improvements could be McKeesport’s greatest draw, according to Hannah Hardy, vice president at Allegheny Trail Alliance, a partnership of seven trail organizations based throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland.

“We’re seeing huge development in trail towns already and expect to see more,” she said.

Small businesses like ice cream shops and delis have been popping up as part of that growth, she said.

“We’re providing opportunities for businesses and making McKeesport a safer, more beautiful place to live,” Mr. Brewster said. “We see this as our renaissance.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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