Gladstone Residences Project groundbreaking celebrates Hazelwood's history and future | The Homepage
By Juliet Martinez
A beloved neighborhood landmark, once vibrant with students learning and growing, will come alive again. The Gladstone Residences project partners, Hazelwood Initiative and The Community Builders, celebrated its groundbreaking on November 21.
Community members, elected officials, funders and project partners gathered in the basketball court at 327 Hazelwood Avenue for a ceremony that was seven years in the making.
“This right here is a big deal,” said Castor Lee Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. “The community has been working on this for a long time. As a person who works in affordable housing, when the community gets involved, it makes a difference because everybody’s buying in.”
The school’s renovation, preservation and adaptive reuse is in direct response to the expressed priorities of the community. Evan Miller, acting director of housing lending at the Urban Redevelopment Authority highlighted the central role the community played in driving this project forward.
“The Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan, which was created by residents, businesses, places of worship and other stakeholders throughout the community, calls for interventions to preserve historic assets in the neighborhood,” Mr. Miller said. “It calls for proactive measures to prevent displacement by providing deed-restricted affordable housing to households of all ages and sizes, and to anchor the Hazelwood Avenue corridor, recognizing its importance as a major artery in the neighborhood.”
Generations of connections
Gladstone school was dedicated in 1915 and closed in 2001. It has been vacant since then. In 2015, community members began a series of meetings to determine the former school's future. In 2016, Hazelwood Initiative purchased the property from the Board of Education.
Sonya Tilghman was hired as executive director of Hazelwood Initiative in 2016 as the community negotiated the purchase of the school. Her tenure has given her an acute appreciation for its importance to the neighborhood.
“For 80-plus years, these buildings served as a community school at every level,” Ms. Tilghman said, noting it started as an elementary school, was changed to a junior high, became a senior high school and finally a middle school. “Anyone who has lived here for any amount of time has some connection to the building.”
Kristina DiPietro is a lifelong Hazelwood resident and longtime community advocate who pushed for the school to be preserved and repurposed. She choked up when talking about the project. She said she was only one of many people who worked to bring it about.
“It was emotional for me to be here because the community really created this,” she said. “People here in the community have had families who have gone to this school and have deep, deep roots. To be able to look at it now and for it to be housing and provide affordable housing for families is really the continuation. It’s wonderful to see that.”
Rev. Michael Murray, who attended Gladstone from sixth to twelfth grade, and whose children also attended the school, was an assistant basketball coach and fought to keep the school open. He said this project is like the seed of a new kind of flourishing in the neighborhood.
“It’s going to be part of the redeveloping and revitalizing that’s going to go into this community,” Rev. Murray said, adding that it is an honor to be part of the process of bringing the school back to life.
Revitalization and Hazelwood Green
The community revitalization Rev. Murray mentioned has been connected to development on Hazelwood Green. The former site of LTV Coke Works is now home to robotics and bioscience hubs, a co-working space and plaza for public and private events. Approximately 3,500 residential units are planned for the 178-acre site along with more than 4 million square feet of commercial space in coming years.
State Rep. Aerion Abney mentioned attending a recent groundbreaking there, where he stressed the importance of development on both sides of the tracks that separate the former brown field from Hazelwood proper. He echoed this theme for Gladstone.
“We need to make sure that as this project develops, as people have opportunities and access to jobs and economic development, that we make sure there’s a connection between here and the riverfront for the betterment of the whole community,” Rep. Abney said.
51 units, 43 affordable
When they are complete, the Residences will feature four studios, 39 one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom apartments. Of those, 43 units will be affordable to households at or below 60% of the area median income. Six of the units will be fully ADA accessible.
Gladstone residents will have access to a top-floor lounge with skyline view, historic auditorium and community room, a health and wellness room and outdoor patio space. The building will have an elevator and be public-transit accessible.
“We’re bringing forth 51 units of mixed-income housing that are going to restore to a functional use a great building with unique architecture,” said Juan Powell, Community Builders Mid-Atlantic regional vice president of development. “This will give the residents of this community long-term affordable housing.”
Winds of change
Gusts of cold wind knocked over tripod-mounted signs that flanked the speakers at the groundbreaking; a few people spontaneously stepped up to hold them in place.
Andy Masich from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission swept a hand toward the people holding the signs up.
“I do feel the winds of change are blowing over Hazelwood. And I know it takes a lot of hands to kind of keep a lid on things, keep them moving in the right direction and keep them from toppling over. But I know there are people here with the passion and dedication to make this project work.”