Vacant Homewood School as Center Planned
By Bill Vidonic
Saturday, December 4, 2010
A social services group wants to transform an empty Homewood school into a building where people could attend educational programs and community events.
On Dec. 16, the Homewood-based Community Empowerment Association will ask the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to change the designation of the Kelly Street building that once housed Holy Rosary school.
“We want to live up to the legacy of the Catholic Church and provide services to the community,” said Rashad Byrdsong, founder of the community association. The group wants to lease, and eventually buy, the three-story, 39,000-square-foot building from the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, but the area is zoned for school use only.
“Any use that makes the community a better place is certainly good,” said the Rev. David Taylor, pastor of St. Charles Lwanga Parish, of which Holy Rosary was a part. “This is a very distressed community, and it needs all the help it can get.”
The diocese closed the school this summer, saying it couldn’t support two schools a mile apart. Holy Rosary merged with St. James School in Wilkinsburg to create the Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy. Classes began this fall in the St. James building.
Holy Rosary, which celebrated its centennial just before closing, was considered a refuge in a neighborhood that wrestles with crime and poverty.
Byrdsong said his group is talking with Taylor about the possibility of leasing the building. He would not disclose financial details because negotiations continue.
Among the group’s services, Byrdsong said, are programs to lower student dropout rates, as well as job training and community events. The group hosts programs in two buildings in the area and would consolidate operations from those buildings at the former school.
The association’s 35 full-time employees “all thought it was a wonderful idea,” Byrdsong said. “(The church) has such a long progressive and positive influence on the community of Homewood, and it would be a shame for the school to lie vacant.”
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, said Community Empowerment Association hasn’t submitted a plan to the diocese, which supports reuse of its vacant buildings.
“We typically prefer they are used to benefit the community,” Lengwin said.
The diocese stopped celebrating Sunday Liturgy at the adjacent Holy Rosary Church on Oct. 24. Taylor said only 100 parishioners celebrated Mass there. They attend services at Mother of Good Counsel Church on Bennett Street.
Lengwin said the church building will host some services, including weddings and funerals.
“It’s an incredible church,” Lengwin said.