Reinvesting in Education — and a City’s Future


The former school that now houses the Erie Center for Art and Technology had been vacant for two years, except for a small health center in the basement. “It was rotting away in this big old building,” said ECAT Executive Director Daria Devlin. But there was a larger vision at work.

ECAT is modeled after the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides youth and in-transition adults with education, career training, and social enterprise support. It’s an educational philosophy that prioritizes people, creativity, and a pleasing environment to end cycles of poverty and lift up individuals and their communities.

“It’s really about providing hope,” Devlin said. “But to do that work, you need a place.”

A core tenant of the Manchester Bidwell model is that a person’s environment shapes their behavior. In Erie, that meant a school building that had deep roots in the city’s East Side, an area that has experienced disinvestment over the past 50 years and is now slower to see the regrowth happening in more affluent areas. With a combination of public and private funding, ECAT purchased the school in 2019 and began renovations that would make the space feel fresher and brighter, including a water feature in the main entrance.

“It’s intended to make you stand up a little straighter and feel like you’re in a special place that was created for you, that reflects your value,” Devlin said.

Bridgeway Capital provided a loan to bridge a grant ECAT received for the final phase of renovation: a new home on the third floor for UPMC Jameson School of Nursing. In the middle of a pandemic, the school’s 16-month training program would be more important than ever. Bridgeway’s loan allowed ECAT to accelerate its construction schedule and get the nursing school open as soon as possible.

“The first class was over 100 nursing students, and 33 percent were students of color, which in healthcare is pretty much unheard of,” Devlin said. “We attribute a lot of that to the space itself. It’s a familiar place in the community.”

 

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