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Student Presentations on Former G. C. Murphy’s Building

I was able to experience changing my community. ––Middle School participant

The Architectural Design Challenge is my favorite gifted competition because of the creativity. ––High School participant

Nineteen middle school teams and four high school teams from Westmoreland County Schools presented their models and spoke passionately about their plans for reusing two vacant buildings in West Newton during PHLF’s 22nd annual Architectural Design Challenge on March 22 and 23. The historic buildings, at 123-127 East Main Street, were formerly occupied by the G. C. Murphy Company.

We thank Yough Intermediate Middle School for hosting the final presentations and the following people for volunteering their time to comment on and judge the student projects: historian Mike Cahall; Angelica Ciranni (Green Building Alliance); Kelley Folts (Canon Design); Roger Hartung (IKM); urban designer Nicole Kubas; retired teacher Jan Mori; Jessica Stuck (PWWG); architect Paul Tellers; James Washabaugh (Engine 30 Architecture); and Samantha Weaver (CMU School of Architecture). For the first time, one of the judges––Kelley Folts––was a former design challenge participant while a Franklin Regional student in sixth through twelfth grades!

Many of the student teams showed how the buildings could be adapted as a youth hostel, which was the program suggested because of the proximity of the buildings to the Great Allegheny Passage bike path. For example, Franklin Regional Middle School (Team A) proposed an:

Art Deco-themed youth hostel and diner … . The re-design of this once-flourishing G. C. Murphy Building complements West Newton’s past and the building’s past and paves the way for the rehabilitation of the energy and vigor of downtown West Newton. Our design includes a youth hostel, a diner, a bike storage room, a rooftop lounge, and various other necessities. A goal of our building is to be as green as possible. … However, the main goal of our design is to attract more people into West Newton, especially downtown West Newton, and to make it more energized.

Other teams suggested that the buildings be adapted for use as:

  • A fitness center and juice bar
  • Parker’s Place, a hotel and café (named for the distinctive Parker-truss bridge in West Newton)
  • Vinoski Winery and Riverbank Bed and Breakfast
  • PetNet (a pet store) and the Come-and-Go Hostel

Each team created mixed-uses for the buildings that would serve the West Newton community year-round, as well as people biking on the trail. The models were well constructed and incorporated green building and handicap accessible features. Several teams surveyed the West Newton community to determine the best uses for the buildings; many teams researched the history of the community and incorporated historical themes into the new uses they proposed; one team spoke directly with Bill Callahan, Western PA Community Preservation Coordinator, to find out exactly what it meant to be located in a National-Register-eligible Historic District.

“We were tremendously impressed with the amount of research and time the students spent on this Architectural Design Challenge,” said Louise Sturgess, Executive Director of PHLF. “All the students spoke eloquently about their concepts and impressed and inspired us.”

The award recipients on March 22 were:

High Schools:

  • Monessen: First Place
  • Penn-Trafford (Team A): Second Place; Student Award
  • Penn Trafford (Team B): Third Place
  • Yough: Honorable Mention; Penguin Award (most important lesson learned from taking a risk)

Middle Schools:

  • Greensburg (Team B): First Place; Student Award
  • Penn (Team A): Second Place
  • Trafford (Team B): Third Place
  • Greensburg (Team C): Honorable Mention
  • Trafford (Team C): Penguin Award (most important lesson learned from taking a risk)

The award recipients on March 23 were:

Middle Schools:

  • Yough (Team B): First Place
  • Yough (Team C): Second Place
  • Franklin Regional (Team C): Third Place
  • Franklin Regional (Team D): Honorable Mention
  • Yough (Team A): Honorable Mention; Student Award

We thank everyone for participating and are grateful to the community of West Newton for their support and enthusiastic welcome. PHLF is able to host this Architectural Design Challenge, and many other place-based educational programs, thanks to generous funding support from the McSwigan Family Foundation.

PHLF hopes to involve middle and high school student teams in suggesting new uses for the roundhouse on the Hazelwood Green site in Pittsburgh during its 23rd annual Architectural Design Challenge that will begin in the Fall of 2018.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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