By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt leaders in Facility Management and Community and Governmental Relations met with Pittsburgh City Council members to discuss plans outlined in Pitt’s Institutional Master Plan.
The meeting on July 14 featured presentations from Owen Cooks and Mary Beth McGrew, assistant and vice chancellors, respectively, for Planning, Design and Real Estate; Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations; Lina Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for Community Engagement; and Jamie Ducar, director of Community Engagement.
The Pitt leaders gave members of the Department of City Planning and community stakeholders a breakdown of the various aspects of Pitt’s Institutional Master Plan (IMP) and its proposed construction projects.
The IMP, required by the city of Pittsburgh, details Pitt’s plans for the next 10 to 25 years and its sustainability efforts.
It outlines numerous building projects in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, including expansions for Alan Magee Scaife Hall and Trees Hall and the Frick Fine Arts building.
In terms of sustainability, some of Pitt’s plans include the reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions from travel by 50 percent below the 2013 baseline, landfill waste by 25 percent, the expansion of its composting program, and making sure 50 percent of Pitt’s energy comes from renewable energy sources.
Other plans include the expansion of tree canopy coverage on campus and more sustainable plantings of native species on the campus’ hillsides. The University also plans to increase stormwater retention.
Several Oakland residents praised Pitt for its communications about the plan and voiced concerns for some aspects of the plan.
Karamagi Rujumba, director of development & communications at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said he and other members of the foundation were concerned with the proposed development of a new academic space along O’Hara Street and Thackeray Avenue that may replace or expand the O’Hara Student Center and Gardner Steel Conference Center.
Rujumba said these buildings are “significant buildings that represent the architectural integrity of Oakland.”
“In terms of the role they played in the beauty of Oakland, we would strongly oppose any idea, or even thinking about demolishing these buildings,” Rujumba said. “We have no problem with the rest of the plan. We, in fact, think it’s very progressive. And frankly, we’re surprised that it would include any notion of the idea of demolishing these significant structures.”
Michael Kostiew, a partner with the Reed Smith real estate group, which is working with Pitt on building projects, said the plan understands that Pitt has to stick to historic review requirements.
“And in fact, there would be a very robust historic review process that we would need to go through to the extent that we are proposing any changes or modifications or demolitions with respect to buildings within any historic district. This does not change that, and we understand that we still have to adhere to that project process,” Kostiew said.
A member of the Bellevue Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Thackeray said his church has had to deal with multiple issues. The first happened in 2019 when a storm sewer backed up into their basement and caused more than $60,000 in flooding damages.
The church member said he was concerned that the planned construction of two larger University buildings north of the church would “result in additional stress on the already inadequate storm system.”
In the second more recent issue, the church’s power abruptly shut off during Sunday service because of construction activity nearby, he said.
“We had no prior warning that this will be taking place and needless to say it was very disruptive to the service. We simply ask that we are communicated with so we can have input on this matter and make plans accordingly,” he said.
Cooks responded to these concerns later in the meeting and said the University goes through an extensive study to make sure its construction plans are “of an appropriate size and nature to ensure that we’re not contributing to overflows, and where necessary, we expand those systems often at the University’s cost to keep the system flowing the way it should.”
Cooks said it was unfortunate that the church’s power was cut so abruptly, but he couldn’t confirm if the construction activity was from a University contractor or not. He said Pitt has and will continue to work with community members to inform them of construction activity ahead of schedule.
Pittsburgh City Council member Erika Strassburger, whose district includes part of Oakland, praised the University for its public engagement surrounding the plan and its sustainability goals.
“The University and its team has bent over backward to accommodate meeting requests — traveling meetings, meetings on site — to really help the community understand how such a large institution … (and) how it’ll impact and mesh with the existing neighborhoods of Oakland and beyond.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.