Left: Owner Jerry Allen cuts a ribbon at the grand opening of Allen Place on August 30.

After sitting unused for nearly five years, the former Chatham School building reopened its doors this summer as a new Northside nonprofit – Allen Place.

Northside resident and former nurse, Jerry Allen, bought the building for in February of 2010 and began its transformation into Allen Place Community Services, Inc. – a local non-profit that plans to offer health and education services to the Northside community.

After nearly two years of renovation, Allen Place held a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday August 30 with representatives from Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Northside Leadership Conference and City Council President Darlene Harris in attendance. 

It officially opened its doors to the public Saturday September 3 with a dedication and health screenings.

Allen Place’s mission statement reads “Allen Place Inc. is deeply committed to our mission of providing health and wellness programs to Pittsburgh’s Northside senior residents and for the social, emotional and educational needs of children and youth by encouraging the healthy development of family relationships and enhancing the cultural awareness in the broader community.” 

In the time Allen Place has spent in the building, owner Jerry Allen says she has already seen positive changes in the neighborhood.

“We came into the neighborhood and found out that people had been killed there. While we were cleaning the building we saw 9-year-olds running up to cars,” said Allen. “We didn’t see any of that this summer.” 

When Observatory Hill’s Chatham Elementary School closed its doors in 2005, the three-story sat at the end of Bonvue Street for three years, empty and unused.

In that time, the building became a center for drug activities, loitering and a block away Cheryl L. Wilds, 47, was killed in violent crossfire in 2008.

Pittsburgh Public School District put the then-empty Chatham school building up for sale, and Jerry Allen, bought the building for $40,000 in February of 2010.

After the initial sale of the building, some Observatory Hill residents expressed concern and were displeased about the sale.

“The biggest problem we had was that the school board never gave neighborhood groups any notice,” said Observatory Hill Inc. Vice President Walt Nalducci. “We’ve had our go around on this thing, but we’re hopeful that it’s a successful program,” he said emphasizing that the community supports Allen Place.

Allen said she also received complaints about the low price of $40,000, for the building and property which Allegheny County assessed the total land and building value to be $1,026,200.

Pittsburgh Public Schools were not available for comment as of press time.

“There were people saying ‘You got the building for nothing,’” said Allen. “You can go back and find records of people who paid $1 for school buildings, but we paid a whole lot more than that,”

She noted that Allen Place Inc. also put an additional $300,000 into converting and maintaining the former school building and they have seen a significant decrease in crime since putting cameras on the roof.

In the past two years, in addition to renovation, Allen has also worked in the community to find the ways that Allen Place could best serve the Northside.

While conducting a community survey in 2009, Allen talked to a few of the kids on loitering outside of the building. A few of the girls told her they wanted ballet classes, and Allen asked if they had done ballet before.

“They told me ‘No, but we’ve seen it on TV,” she said.

Allen Place will focus on health and wellness education and offer free aerobics classes in collaboration with CCAC as well as a variety of other programs in quilting, scrapbooking, horticulture, line dancing and after school tutoring programs.

Allen also said she hopes to have an adult daycare in the building by January.

The building will also serve as the new location of Holy Family Learning Institute, an alternative school for troubled kids.

The new location in Observatory Hill is closer for the students who live in the Holy Family’s residential homes in Brighton Heights and Perrysville, than their former location on Ohio River Boulevard.

“We’re very pleased,” said Dr. Pam Kovacs, Holy Family executive director for learning. “The fact that it’s in the community is great.”

Kovacs also said she is very pleased with the facilities and that even the building inspectors were impressed with how well maintained the school was.

Holy Family’s school year started along with Pittsburgh Public Schools last month, and Kovac said the new location is working out very well. Their 65 current students have the entire second floor of the building, several classrooms on the third floor, a library, computer lab and gymnasium.

For a complete list of services and activities offered at Allen Place, go to www.allenplacecommunity.org.