The community of Hazelwood is celebrating the unanimous decision of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board of directors to approve the sale of the Gladstone Middle School building for redevelopment. Sitting on six acres of land in the middle of the neighborhood, the historic building was vacant for over fourteen years as the school board struggled to find responsible developers willing to rehabilitate the site. However, during recent months, Hazelwood residents and stakeholder organizations rallied to submit a proposal to purchase the school as the community prepares for upcoming development and planning.
Through its Reimagining Communities Initiative, PCRG facilitated the formation of a partnership between those interested in the site, which included residents and local organizations such as the Hazelwood Initiative and the Center of Life, and Make It Right, a non-profit organization based out of New Orleans experienced in large community-driven revitalization projects. This collaboration emerged as a result of voiced community concerns that residents might face displacement and gentrification as a result of new development.
Based on these concerns, the team designed an acquisition and rehabilitation proposal based on community inclusivity and transparency. Over the last six months, four charrette-style* public meetings were held where more than one hundred residents gathered to exchange opinions, ideas and concerns about the reuse of the site. Ultimately, residents decided to endorse a proposal that transforms the school into a community incubator that provides resources currently unavailable to the area, such as a recreation center, medical assistance, workforce development, affordable housing, and more. While this community input process was taking place, residents attended school board meetings to speak out against other proposed uses that wouldn’t benefit the neighborhood or might compromise the community’s identity.
Now that the community-led partnership has taken the first step to acquire the school building, the hard work begins. The team will continue to secure the financial and organizational partners needed to ensure the project is successful in fulfilling the community’s vision. The team also hopes to maintain and build on the momentum that has been built as they tackle the more difficult aspects of this rehab development. In the meantime, Hazelwood is celebrating the gains they made by simply standing up for the best interests of their community.
*Charrette: An intensive planning session where citizens, planners, and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the project team. More importantly, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan.