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New life proposed for former South Hills High School

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
Thursday, April 19, 2007

The former South Hills High School soon could be given new life after sitting dormant for 20 years in the heart of a Mt. Washington residential neighborhood.

“It’s been a white elephant for a long time,” said Mt. Washington resident Virginia Gates, a 1959 graduate of the school, which was built in 1916 and closed in 1986. “You can see from the sheer size of it what an impact its (revival) is going to have on the whole community.”

North Shore-based developer a.m. Rodriguez Associates Inc. has prepared a $20 million redevelopment plan to build 84 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 25 two-bedroom, market-rate rental lofts in the building.

The apartments would be marketed to senior citizens. The first floor could have more than 10,000 square feet of commercial space and a health center.

Room for off-street parking should be plentiful once the developer removes three sections of the mammoth building to bring its size to 155,000 square feet.

“In terms of why it’s important to bring this building back, it’s a huge building that at one time was a landmark and center of activity for that community,” said Tom Link, manager of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s business development center. The URA has targeted the school for redevelopment.

Gates, chairwoman of the South Hills High School committee, believes the renovation project will boost property values around the site and drive out drug dealers and vandals.

Link and Gates said many developers have tried over the past 20 years to devise ways to renovate the building, but none has come as far as Rodriguez Associates.

Victor Rodriguez said his company has applied for $12 million in tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. If those credits come through in September, an estimated 15 months of construction could begin as soon as June 2008.

“There’s a great market for this up there, especially for seniors,” he said.

Ethan Raup, executive director of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corp., credited Gates and the URA for helping to persuade the building’s owner — Pittsburgh Public Schools — to make the property more enticing to developers by removing asbestos, adding a new roof and doing other renovations.

“To me, it’s going from having an enormous dead space in the middle of a residential community to injecting it with new life,” Raup said.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at or (412) 765-2312.

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