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Old school deserves historic status

Pittsburgh Post GazetteJILL HENKEL
Letter to the Editor
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Turtle Creek
Thursday, March 22, 2007

On March 13, 2007, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Bureau for Historic Preservation in Harrisburg held a meeting to review the nomination of the former Turtle Creek High School to the National Register of Historic Places.

In order for a property to be considered for nomination, certain criteria need to be met. The property should be at least 50 years old, should be associated with events that have made a contribution to the broad patterns of our history, or be associated with the lives of persons significant to our past, or should embody a type, period, or method of construction.

The former Turtle Creek High School, now Woodland Hills’ East Junior High School, meets these criteria. I was fortunate to be able to speak on behalf of the nomination, which is the result of countless hours of research by dedicated volunteers. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation offered its invaluable resources to help bring the nomination to fruition.

Also attending the nomination meeting were Woodland Hills school board President Cynthia Lowery and Superintendent Dr. Roslynne Wilson.

While I spoke in favor of the nomination, Mrs. Lowery asked the bureau to deny it! She spoke of a declining tax base in the Woodland Hills School District, and of not wanting to further burden the taxpayers therein by asking them to financially support two junior high schools.

Mrs. Lowery stated that she would like to close East. But if she truly has the taxpayers’ best interests at heart, she should be in favor of the nomination.

Owners of properties listed in the National Register may be eligible for a 20 percent investment tax credit for the certified rehabilitation of income-producing certified historic structures.

This [and available tax deductions and grants] would make the former high school very attractive to potential new owners.

If the school district wants to divest itself of this property, this building needs to be maintained accordingly. There are still costs associated with the day-to-day maintenance of a shuttered building. The school board speaks of an annual savings of more than $900,000 by closing East. Those costs will hardly drop to zero if that plan is carried through.

Mrs. Lowery spoke to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission of meeting opposition when plans for tearing down East and building a new multimillion-dollar school on the site were disclosed. Where was her concern for the fiscal burden on the taxpayer when that plan was formulated?

Mrs. Lowery stated to school board Vice President Marilyn Messina at the March 14 school board meeting that she attended the meeting in Harrisburg as a private citizen, which is untrue. She pointedly identified herself as the president of the Woodland Hills school board. One has to assume that she spoke as the president of the school board when she said, and I quote: “that the residents of Turtle Creek have been angry for 25 years because the merger forced them to desegregate.” She feels that that is the real motivation behind seeking the nomination to the National Register. I felt compelled to speak again in rebuttal. I stated in no uncertain terms the outrage that I felt at the suggestion that my fellow residents and I are racists carrying a 25-year grudge.

Despite Mrs. Lowery’s objections, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Bureau for Historic Preservation unanimously voted that the former Turtle Creek High School be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

I’m sure that I speak for many concerned parents and taxpayers when I ask what Mrs. Lowery’s real motivation is.


Turtle Creek

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633