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Students take on architecture

By Bob Stiles
Friday, October 28, 2005

Shannon Page likes ugly buildings.
“I love to make them look pretty,” she said.

Page and about 150 other Southwestern Pennsylvania students will get the chance — at least on paper and in a model — to improve the looks of one building, the former Bugzy’s Bagel shop in Greensburg.

The students are participating in the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s 10th annual Architectural Design Challenge, which is being held in Westmoreland County for the first time.

“I like to put things together and make things better than they use to be,” Page, a Belle Vernon Area High School sophomore, said of why she takes part in the competition. “And I like to make them more appealing to the senses.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, middle and high school students from about a dozen school districts, most in Westmoreland County, examined the exterior of the former bagel shop on West Pittsburgh Street. They also toured nearby structures, including the Palace Theatre.

The competition requires the students to come up with a use for the building — one that they anticipate would please and attract the public. They then must redesign the building, depict that revamped structure in a model and present their ideas to a panel of judges.

Judging will be held in February for both the middle and high school students at the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center.

Among the criteria used in the evaluation are the project’s feasibility and the creativity of the students. Other factors are the accuracy of the model and the effectiveness of the oral presentation.

In the competition, the students must keep in mind how their new design would fit in with surrounding structures — the reason for touring the nearby buildings, officials said.

Foundation officials said they brought the competition from Allegheny County, where it previously was held, to Greensburg because of the strong interest shown in the past by Westmoreland County schools.

“These kids are incredible,” said Louise Sturgess, the foundation’s executive director. “What they’re able to do is amazing.”

To attract customers, Page and her six schoolmates are considering turning Bugzy’s into a restaurant with structural features from the 1930s and ’40s.

“And to attract more people, we want to put shops around it,” Page said.

Antique stores, which are proposed for a parking lot that adjoins Bugzy’s, are especially being considered by her group, Page said.

The team that Page was on last year finished third in the competition, with a museum it proposed for Point State Park in Pittsburgh.

“We were close, but we’ve never actually won. Hopefully, this is our year,” Page said.

Sara Yates, 17, a Yough senior who hopes one day to be involved in government, said she isn’t as interested in architecture as she is on the effects of construction on a community and its government.

The competition — her fourth — also is a blast, she said.

“I just think it’s fun,” Yates said. “I like building the model and presenting it. I like public speaking.”

The Franklin Regional team that Andrew Skoff, 14, was on last year finished second in the competition. The freshman is participating in the challenge — his third — because he is interested in architectural engineering.

“I like the planning, the thought process that goes into it,” Skoff said.

His team was considering turning the Greensburg building into a bookstore with a cafe and outside garden.

The students learned about zoning and other building-related regulations from representatives of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, the Greensburg Planning Department and the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture. The officials also shared their views on what Greensburg and its surrounding communities are like.

Linda Kubas, Palace Theatre manager, said the tour of Greensburg’s downtown was to help the students to design a building that conforms to the other structures in the community.

“It’s to blend into the use and the character of downtown Greensburg,” she said of the students’ building.

Greensburg planner Barbara Ciampini told the high school students that Bugzy’s closed several years ago, and the structure previously was used as a bar.

“It was a vibrant corner,” Ciampini said. “It would be great to see that once again.”

Bob Stiles can be reached at or (724) 836-6622.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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