South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

MO mayor opposes care facility proposed for school building


Last updated 9/25/2018 at 5:01am

Mt. Oliver Mayor Frank Bernardini is opposing a plan for Action Housing to buy the former Mt. Oliver School building and then lease it to Auberle for a care facility.

A new council member, and a proposal to turn the former Mt. Oliver School into a health and care giving facility operated by the human service agency Auberle, kicked off the Sept. 17 meeting of Mt. Oliver council.

Mayor Frank Bernardini began the meeting by swearing in Aaron Graham to the council seat left vacant by the resignation last month of David Beltz, whose resignation letter cited work and family demands.

Mr. Graham, 38, is a University of Pittsburgh staff member and a nine-year borough resident. He was one of two applicants for the position.

"It was a unique opportunity to make change and make the borough a better place to live," he said of why he sought the seat. He will serve the remainder of the unfinished term until the end of 2019.

Next, Mr. Bernardini read a statement expressing his staunch opposition to the proposal by Auberle to turn the old Mt. Oliver School, located between Penn Ave. and St. Joseph St. across from Casne World, into a health and care giving facility.

The former school is currently comprised of 16 apartments.

"Auberle intends to utilize the school for what they term as health and care giving.

"Also to help in reuniting children with their mother or father because CYF took custody of the children because of substance abuse or alcoholism or both.

"What it comes down to, is the school will be nothing more than a rehab center.

"This borough can't absorb anymore displaced individuals regardless of the circumstances.

"The borough has more than its share," he stated.

The proposal was presented at the borough's Sept. 10 agenda meeting.

According to information distributed by Auberle, the "number one reason that children come into the Children, Youth and Families system is due to opioid addiction by a caregiver that results in neglect to the children."

Under its substance use disorder program proposed for placement in the borough, families impacted by a caregiver's addiction will move into one of the facility's apartments for four to six months with treatment focused on everyone challenged by that addiction.

While the addicted caregiver will receive treatment by Auberle and UPMC addiction specialists, the children will have access to tutoring, mental health services, recreation activities, enrichment programs, and other services.

The program "supports eight families at a time in a secure location," according to Auberle.

Following the completion of the program, Auberle will assist the family to return to their community.

Mr. Bernardini said he initiated a petition for residents to sign in opposition to the proposed facility. He also plans to seek a meeting with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald about vacant schools and buildings in the city and county to accommodate these kinds of programs.

"We need your support," Councilman Nick Viglione told attendees as he, too, is opposed to the proposal.

To questions from attendees later in the meeting, Council President Amber McGough said the owner would sell the building if the plan goes forward, and the current tenants would have to move out.

One of the tenants is Councilwoman Barbara Keener.

"It is not an actual rehab facility," she said. Instead, she said the facility would house a family from four to six months, during which there would be counseling activities.

She added "she totally respects the concerns of Frank [Bernardini] and Nick [Viglione]," and called Auberle "a very reputable organization."

"It will be a secure facility," Ms. McGough said.

Solicitor Emily Mueller said the proposal is a permitted use for the property. The owner must apply for a special exception to the Zoning Hearing Board.

A public hearing will be held if/when an application is filed.

"This borough's gone downhill rapidly," an attendee opposed to the proposal said.

"The borough does not need this. We have enough problems," Mr. Bernardini said.

On another topic, the mayor said Jordan Tax Service collected $83,644 in August and $61,451 in September in delinquent sewage bills.

"So there is progress in this area," he said.

In the public safety report for August, he reported there were 577 total calls for service, and 40 drug arrests, the latter for the seizure of marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, and drug paraphernalia. There was one burglary and two DUI arrests.

The police K-9 units were used 34 times, including for drug and building searches, arrests, warrant service, demonstration, park-and-walks, and targeted patrols. Eleven warrants were served by the police department.

The police responded to six commercial alarms and six residential alarms.

Parking Enforcement wrote 130 borough tickets, while the Police Department wrote 23 borough tags. There were 44 state citations issued for parking violations.

The total collected for payment of fines for tickets issued this month was $1,585.

All equipment is operating properly.

In the fire report for August, the Mt. Oliver Volunteer Fire Company responded to 47 incidents, 32 of which were for EMS and 15 for fire.

Ms. McGough said there is a false rumor circulating in the borough that the city firefighters will be taking over firefighting duties in January as council plans to get rid of the borough's volunteer fire company.

She said the rumor it totally untrue.

In the code enforcement report for August, borough manager Rick Hopkinson reported there were 253 violations, resulting in 227 notices and 26 legal filings.

There were 20 hearings in front of District Magistrate Richard King.

Twenty-seven rental licenses were issued for 74 units, and five occupancy permits were issued for homes on Hays, Hervey, Margaret, Ormsby, and Stamm.

Three building permits and one zoning permit were issued.

Last month council appointed Mr. Hopkinson to the position of code enforcement officer. He performs these duties along with his existing duties as borough manager.

The appointment will expire upon the hiring of a new code enforcement officer.

In public safety, Councilman Justin Viale reported a gun bash fundraiser held on Sept. 8 raised $19,549. Proceeds were split between the borough fire and police departments.

In the public works report for August, Councilman Dave Lowe reported that routine facility maintenance was conducted, like emptying trash, cleaning/sweeping, and re-stocking supplies. Trash cans were emptied three times per week in the business district, and tires and TVs were picked up throughout the borough.

Personnel repaired stop signs on Louisa and Quincy, and installed a "children playing" sign on Verena.

In Transverse and Ormsby parks, workers emptied trash cans/spot swept three times per week. Grass was also cut on vacant properties on Amanda, Anthony, Arlington, Brownsville, Church, Hays, Frederick, Giffin, Hervey, Louisa, Ottillia, Stamm, and others.

In sanitary/storm sewer maintenance, four dye tests were performed, and inlets were cleaned throughout the borough.

Ms. Keener reported her windows were hit with two paint balls.

"Keep your eyes open," she said of being aware of vandals.

In economic development, Councilwoman Tina Reft reported upcoming events include a Fall Festival on Sept. 22 at Transverse Park.

Up on the Hilltop will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Dec. 1. Details to follow.

In resolutions and ordinances, council adopted articles of agreement with Waste Management. The borough will be returning in January to Waste Management as its garbage hauler. The contact will be for five years.

In questions and answers, an attendee asked why the windows are not boarded over at a vacant home on Hays Ave. Mr. Hopkinson said the property will be demolished or undergo rehabilitation within the next six months.

An Onyx Ave. resident said a neighboring house has been vacant for over 30 years, and needs torn down. Numerous raccoons live there, she said. The structure is on the borough demolition list.

The attendee said neighbors have out-of-state license plates which state law requires must be changed. Police Chief Matt Juzwick said if he pulls the driver over and they say they have been living here for, say, two years, he can do something.

But they can have residency in other states also, he said, so it is very difficult to cite.

Regarding the pending nuisance property ordinance, which council is working on, the ACLU will not let domestic calls be covered.

Property owners will be fined for the actions of their nuisance property tenants.

"Landlords will be fined and held responsible," the mayor said.

The next council meeting will be on October 15.


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