Above: The school building on Ridge Avenue in West Allegheny has not been used as a school in eight years.
After eight years of vacancy and two months on the market, the former Pittsburgh Public School building on Ridge Avenue may finally have a new occupant.
Pittsburgh Public Schools currently has three bidders for the 44,000 square foot school at 635 Ridge Avenue – Light of Life Ministries, Propel Schools and the Community College of Allegheny County.
The bids were made public on Monday, October 17, after Schenley, Reizensteinand the Ridge Avenue schools were put on the market in August. Bids for 12 other schools, including Brightwood’s Horace Mann School building on Shadeland Avenue, are due by October 25.
The money made from the sale of these schools would offset the projected $38 million dollar deficit the Pittsburgh Public School faces for 2012.
Light of Life Ministries, an outreach program for the poor, homeless and addicted, made the highest bid at $1.1 million dollars and hope to relocate to Ridge Avenue from their current facility on North Avenue, where they provide food, shelter and resources.
“The facility that we’re in is grossly inadequate in both size and condition,” said Light of Life Executive Director Craig Schweiger, who noted that the line of people outside the building has been a complaint of residents and community developers in the neighborhood.
Schweiger said that the Ridge Avenue building is ideal because it sits apart from any specific neighborhood, is 8,000 square feet larger than their current facility and has a flexible floor plan.
If Light of Life wins the bid, they hope to start construction in 2012.
“We could easily not get it, even though we’re the highest bidder,” he said. “But I think we did a good job with [the bid form].”
Pittsburgh Public Schools will make the decision on a number of factors including highest offer, whether or not the price exceeds outstanding debt and whether the organization has done similar and successful renovations before.
They would also like the new owner to be taxable, provide positive community benefits and have the potential to increase student enrollment. None of the current bidders are taxable organizations.
CCAC, the next highest bidder at $1,050,000, hopes to use the building to house a new healthcare program.
“We’re really interested in the possibility of bringing a workforce program to the Allegheny Campus,” said David Hoovler, executive assistant to the president. “The opportunity to offer a healthcare program in the city is appealing.”
Due to a tightened budget and a state-funding cut, Hoovler said CCAC has identified private funding to help with the purchase of the building. He said the funding will not come from tuition or CCAC’s usual state or county allocations.
Propel Northside, which is holding its first school year in Columbus Middle School, bid $500,000 for the Ridge Avenue building.
“We like the location and proximity to the park and aviary,” said Richard Snyder, director of non-instructional operations at Propel.
Snyder said Propel is concerned that bid is significantly lower, but will continue the search regardless. At this time, he said Propel is not interested in Horace Mann School, which will go up for sale in October.
Snyder said Propel may be interested in Northside Pittsburgh Public School buildings that are slated to close this year and are looking into the option of nontraditional school buildings as well.
“We hope to be able to make an announcement regarding winning bids no later than December but earlier if possible,” said Ebony Pugh of Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“Anytime the District is planning to sell a building, the neighborhood plan and potential impact on the neighborhood should be a critical factor,” said Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, who noted that it was disappointing that the organizations and school board had not already reached out to the community of Allegheny West.