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CMU starts building Hazelwood Green robotics center; Steelers announce sports complex | The Homepage

By Juliet Martinez, managing editor

The Pittsburgh Steelers and a bunch of robots are coming to Hazelwood in 2025.

Carnegie Mellon University broke ground on its Robotics Innovation Center the day after the Steelers announced plans for a community sports center on Hazelwood Green. Both are expected to be completed next year.

Robotics institute groundbreaking

A small, brown-skinned woman stands with a tall, brown-skinned man. Both are smiling. In the background people are milling around.
Hazelwood resident and JADA House International founder Terri Shields (left) with JaQuay Carter, founder and president of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society of Pittsburgh at the Dec. 15 groundbreaking at Mill 19. Photo by Juliet Martinez

As Carnegie Mellon University broke ground on the construction of its Robotics Innovation Center on Dec. 15, abundant connections were made between the site’s industrial legacy and its high-tech future.

“The iron and steel industry of the past... is being replaced by the technology and the robotics, which is really exciting,” said JaQuay Carter, founder and president of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society of Pittsburgh.

Researchers will use the 150,000-square-foot research and testing facility to explore the basic principles of the field, like developing new sensors and actuators. But the applied robotics research expected in the facility has the potential to put Pittsburgh at the heart of innovations that can change how we think about manufacturing, health care and even space exploration.

“It’s easy to see the historical parallels to the growth of the steel industry where innovations made Pittsburgh one of the most important cities in the world,” said Hazelwood Initiative executive director Sonya Tilghman.

As university president Farnam Jahanian touched on how steel was “the heart of manufacturing, and Pittsburgh was the heart of steel,” he thanked Hazelwood residents for continuing to invest and believe in their community since long before the site became known as Hazelwood Green. He promised to bring CMU-led programming like Girls of Steel, Robotics Academy and Engineering Ambassadors to expose more young people to science, technology and engineering careers.

“Today, CMU remains committed to working with the greater Hazelwood community to realize a future that works for everyone,” he said.

According to a statement from the university, the facility will expand the university’s capacity for automation research with laboratories like an open-layout wet lab, a 50,000-square-foot indoor robot test space and a 1.5-acre outdoor lab with a 6,000-square-foot drone cage.

The facility has been made possible by a $45 million lead grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, recalled how, 20 years ago, the site was at risk of becoming an impound lot. But, he said, the Almono Partners wanted to see the former brownfield become a model for linked economic and community development.

“Our vision was for Hazelwood Green to be a launching pad for Pittsburgh to lead the most coveted economic sectors of our new economy, just as the steel mills that once operated here were in their time,” he said. “And the residents of Hazelwood — too often left out of such visions — could be partners in that very transformation.”

District 5 Councilor Barb Warwick addressed the need for the institute to generate more than innovation, but also career pathways for its neighbors.

“In addition to being a global hub for research and innovation, the goal of this place is also to be a hub of well-paid, family-sustaining jobs, especially for our young people living right here in Hazelwood,” she said, adding, “We are going to have to innovate new ways to connect, to meet them where they are and make the prospect of a career in robotics and automation feel accessible, exciting and real. It’s not going to be easy. Luckily, you guys are CMU and I know you are up for the challenge.”

Steelers sports center

The Steelers, Tishman-Speyer and the Richard King Mellon foundation announced on Dec. 14 a planned community sports complex for Hazelwood Green.

The three announced plans for a new, state-of-the-art community football field and sports complex. The Richard King Mellon Foundation awarded a $10 million grant to Steelers Charities, the team’s charitable arm, to fund construction.

“We are excited to be part of this special project which will provide the young athletes of our region access to a state-of-the-art facility at Hazelwood Green,” said Dan Rooney, Steelers director of business development and strategy.

Steelers Charities will operate the facility, which will host clinics with Steelers players and coaches, youth football, flag football, and soccer games and clinics. The project will involve renovation of a 10,000-square-foot building already standing on the site for year-round indoor sports and recreation activities, according to the joint statement. Construction will begin this year with a grand opening planned in 2025.

“Center of Life is thrilled to welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Greater Hazelwood community,” said Center of Life founder and chief executive officer Tim Smith. “The players have volunteered and participated in our community events, filling bags with food for Thanksgiving meals, delivering turkeys to families and helping students with homework. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been great community partners, but now they’ll be partners in the community.”

For more Hazelwood Green development news, see the December community meeting report.

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