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School preservation sought at Turtle Creek

By M. Ferguson Tinsley,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Listing the former Turtle Creek High School, now known as East Junior High School, on the National Register of Historic Places could be on the horizon — and it could help save the storied building.

A state preservation agency would have to be consulted before a nationally recognized landmark could be demolished, according to a representative of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“We have a person working on the nomination form now,” said Ron Yochum, chief information officer for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The nomination will be submitted in four to six weeks and a decision returned in a year, according to the foundation’s President Arthur Ziegler.

The final word must come down from the state Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg.

Ann Safley, a state museum commission historic preservation specialist, said the old high school was deemed eligible for the list several years ago and has been held at that status pending a formal nomination. Even so, eligibility alone bestows the same status as that of a building already on the national list, she emphasized.

Ultimately her department cannot stop demolition or renovation of a historic building, said Ms. Safley, but “if [Woodland Hills is] getting state or federal reimbursement for the project, they will have to consult with us.”

Mr. Yochum said The National Register designation is given to properties older than 50 that serve to recall significant historical events, people or locations.

“In this case it’s the architecture of the building and the importance to the community,” said Mr. Yochum.

Last December, up to 250 people rallied behind the Committee to Save Turtle Creek High School and challenged the Woodland Hills School District’s plan to spend up to $20 million to demolish the 90-year-old building in Turtle Creek.

Led by borough resident Bob Mock, the committee demanded that the district consider renovating the school rather than razing it for a new building.

Since then, the district has ordered HHSDR Architects/Engineers of Pittsburgh and Sharon to rethink the plan.

In January, the planners produced new drawings showing that renovations would cost nearly $22 million.

Further in response to the committee, the district formed a citizens/staff review group that has looked into the issue for several weeks. The group is due to comment on their findings next month, according to the district facilities coordinator Christopher Baker.

Mr. Baker said a representative from the Pittsburgh preservation group went through the building a week ago.

If the state Historical and Museum Commission gives the school a spot on the list, it could trigger more architect’s drawings. Demolition, however, may cease to be an option.

“Usually historical commissions don’t like for you to demolish their buildings,” Mr. Baker said.

(M. Ferguson Tinsley can be reached at or 412-263-1455. )

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

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