Directors Seek ‘Big Change’ as Tutorial Program Expands at Former Madison School in Upper Hill

February 23, 2015 | Diana Nelson Jones | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

In its 20-year existence, the Schenley Heights Community Development Program has lived in scattered sites providing programs for children.

The nonprofit was founded at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church and now has programs at Obama, Miller, Weil and Milliones schools, from after-school tutorials and summer enrichment to early childhood education and a track club.

Now it can bring all its programs under one roof — the former Madison Elementary in the Upper Hill District — and double the number of children it serves. The organization bought the building recently and hopes to move in by late summer.

The school, at 3401 Milwaukee St., is a city and national historic property and was a bargain at $65,000, said Charlie Davis, the program’s development director. It will require about $300,000 in renovations, for which the group is raising money, but the condition is surprisingly good for a building that has been vacant for almost 10 years.

“If we get the asbestos abated and the plaster fixed, we could move in and get started,” he said.

Mr. Davis said the program is now taking bids for the first phase — asbestos assessment, remediation and plaster renovation. The gym floor and the auditorium roof will be next.

A $35,000 grant from the nonprofit Bridgeway Capital for an asbestos assessment ideally would lead to a loan for the abatement or renovations, said Dwayne Rankin, Bridgeway Capital’s community development loan officer.

He said Bridgeway’s pre-development grants are intended “to help catalyze community development projects in low-income communities, leverage more investment and attract the private market.”

“The work the program does is pretty impressive in itself, but this building being reactivated will increase the capacity to nearly double, 400 students,” Mr. Rankin said. “That could make a big change in the community.”

“We wanted to expand and grow,” said Carolyn Davis, who segued from being a principal in the public school system to leading the Schenley Heights program as its executive director. In fact, she was the principal at Madison from 2002 to 2005 and Mr. Davis, her son, was a tutor there.

The original building, from 1902, is of a Romanesque style, with detailed dentil work around the front door and arched windows. The largest part of the building is a 1929 addition.

 

“So many people in this neighborhood respect this building,” Mr. Davis said. “I am so excited to get this going.”

A crowd-funding campaign on Razoo is underway.

“The program has been a key neighborhood asset,” said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill District Community Development Corp., who lives in Schenley Heights. “This use aligns with our master plan and addresses educational and community needs. For this program to expand in one of those assets is proper and fitting and will further stabilize the Upper Hill neighborhood.”

Another Schenley Heights resident, Thomas Sumpter, is president of the school board and attended Madison.

“To think that building is going to be reused for educational activities means a lot to this community,” he said.

Mr. Davis said the ultimate goal is to turn the building back into a school, either a private or faith-based one, focusing on computer science, robotics, engineering, circuitry, art, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, “to break the cycle our people are in. We are going to close the achievement gap.”

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626