South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Procedure to sell Arlington School building explained

 

August 1, 2017



Discussion continued at the Arlington Civic Council (ACC) concerning Academy Charter School’s desire to purchase and relocate to the former Arlington Elementary School on Jonquil Street.

Bill Styche, principal at Academy Charter School (ACS), attended his third meeting with community members and the ACC, and was joined by representatives from Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS). Joining in the conversation from the school district were area school board member Cindy Falls, Chief Financial Officer Ron Joseph and Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet.

Ms. Falls opened the presentation by saying the only way they would get anything productive done that evening would be to have a responsible dialog. Before going forward, she suggested an overview of how the proposal began, the process it is going through and where they are now.

Mr. Joseph said it was almost two years ago when they were in Arlington to discuss the closing of the two Arlington Elementary School buildings coupled with the consolidation of those schools in to the reopening of Murray School. At that time, the community expressed concerns about the reuse of the closed buildings.

“I think there was some sentiment among the community that we already knew what we wanted to do with the building prior to even engaging in a process that we were going to put it in a process the community didn’t want,” he said. “I heard clearly that the community didn’t want any Section 8 housing, the community didn’t want a methadone clinic.”

He said it was premature in the process because they weren’t even out of the buildings yet.

Currently, PPS is in the process of marketing, getting proposals and selling many of their vacant buildings. As part of that process they have an appraised price for the buildings, a market price and finally an asking price.

Before entertaining an offer one of the criteria for any proposal to buy a school building is, “Is there any community support?”

For the Arlington School building offer, PPS has asked Academy Charter School to have community support for their proposal.

The Academy Charter School first approached PPS about the building last fall, but the offer fell below the minimum price. PPS and Academy went back and forth with offers before school officials decided to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP). PPS didn’t receive any proposals under its RFP.

After the RFP deadline passed, Academy officials again engaged with PPS to see if the building was still available for reuse.

Mr. Joseph said they encouraged ACS officials to begin the community engagement and support component before proceeding further.

Typically, PPS wouldn’t get involved in the community support process, but because of its prior participation with the community over the closing of the school Mr. Joseph thought it was appropriate for them to attend the meeting.

Mr. Joseph said to his knowledge PPS did not receive any other credible offers on the building in the year it was available. He added there was some interest and there were approximately 15 individuals who toured the building, but there were no other credible offers.

Asked if any offers had been received on the Arlington Avenue school building, Mr. Joseph said they had not so far. The smaller size of the building and limited parking provide challenges for potential buyers. However, he added there have been several people touring the building.

Mr. Joseph was asked if it would be possible to make a provision in the sales agreement for the Jonquil Street school building that it wouldn’t be used as a residential facility as a condition of the sale.

“Typically we haven’t had any type of ‘claw back’ provisions,” he said. “Because they’re questionable in their effectiveness in terms of our legal right to pull the property back and whether we would actually want to pull the property back after you’ve sold the property and gone through remedial steps as it pertains to the outstanding debt.”

He added PPS has had a good track record with doing their due diligence in the deals they’ve for properties in the past. As well as, having good partners in doing what they have said they will do.

It was also noted for the building to become a residential facility; it would have to go through a zoning process. If it went through zoning, there would be another public process.

Debra Morgan, president of the Arlington Civic Council, said if the sale of the building does go through, two of the conditions they would like to see would include that there would be no residential program and that the school would be limited to 150 students. At the prior meeting, Sam Costanzo, chief executive director of Academy Charter School, told the group the number of students would be capped at 150.

Mr. Styche in a recap of the information provided at the previous meeting said the Academy Charter School isn’t the The Academy and is a parent-driven charter school for grades 8 to 12.

There are students in the school on probation, but he noted, just like any other school in the city. There is a probation officer in the school and at one time 25 to 30 per cent of the students were on probation but may not be now.

All students wear uniforms and are picked up and taken door-to-door, home to school and back in 10-passenger vans. Students aren’t permitted to walk to school.

Teachers and other school staff are the van drivers and also eat lunch with the students.

Male and female students come from all over Allegheny County.

“It’s a regular school,” he said.

“I can’t say that there won’t be issue, but if there are issues, they will be discussed,” Mr. Styche added.

Students arrive and depart the school on a staggered schedule because of the 10-passenger van transportation. They’re dismissed one van at a time.

Asked why they don’t have a security staff, Mr. Styche said, “We’ve never needed it.” In the 14 years he’s been with the school he has never had to call the police.

There is a discipline team at the school of four staff members who have been able to handle any problems.

Ms. Falls said she received several questions pertaining to the prospective sale of the building: Why didn’t they build a new building on the 50-acre campus on Agnew Street where the school is currently located and why wasn’t the community notified immediately that someone was interested in the building.

She said the cost of a new building versus the cost of renovating an existing school building is enormous. As far as why the community wasn’t involved sooner, she explained she wasn’t made aware because the school board isn’t involved in the process this early.

“It’s not that we’re trying to hide anything,” Ms. Falls said. “It’s not like we’re trying to put something in the back door. We’re not trying to slide something.”

She continued that they’ve tried to answer every question put to them.

“I would never do something that I thought would have a negative impact on Arlington,” Ms. Falls said.

Dr. Hamlet said PPS has an expectation that the buyers of the school buildings have a conversation with the community about their plans. What the building is going to be, its purpose and other concerns.

“Community involvement is key for us,” he said. “That’s important. If that didn’t happen we wouldn’t be moving forward with anything without the community input and buy in for what’s going on.”

The Arlington Civic Council is accepting input from the community before deciding whether to support the project to relocate the charter school to the former Arlington Elementary School. Comments are being accepted on their Facebook page or by emailing Linda Staab at littlestaab@yahoo.com

 

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