by Jonathan Weaver
It’s been nearly 11 months since Kittanning Senior High locked its doors after the last class of Wildcats graduated.
And the 100-year-old property remains vacant.
Last month during a community revitalization meeting, small groups of Wick City residents opined that they would like the school turned into a community asset rather than leaving it vacant.
Monday, Councilman Gerald Shuster voted to, as Council President Kim Fox said, “get the ball rolling” on a feasibility study of the Orr Avenue property.
“There’s no sure thing, but they opened the door and the need for more recreation in the north end of the borough and that we have not found a use for the senior high school,” Shuster said. “There is a possibility for DCNR (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) to look into this in greater detail at almost no cost to us and keep it open for Kittanning’s use.
“Ideally we’d like to put it back on the tax rolls, but if history tells us anything, that’s probably going to be far more difficult to achieve than anything else.”
The feasibility study, Shuster clarified, does not obligate the Borough to any plan presented.
“But, at least it finds out whether there’s federal and state money out there for us to use,” Shuster said. “That school’s not going to be up there forever.
“I would hate to see some use for that school and (council members) not participate and say ‘Well, at least we fought the battle’ before someone turned it into something we don’t want.”
Council members voted 6-0 to allow Project Manager Sally Conklin to look into the study
In November, Fourth Economy Consulting of Pittsburgh Vice President of Community and Market Assessments Stephen McKnight said the school has potential for both commercial and residential use due to its size.
“We would see the primary use as residential, targeting the ‘empty-nesters’ 55+ group (or) possibly some assisted-living looking at 65-70 (year-old residents) or above, McKnight said.
“Even though an adaptive reuse of the buildings is intriguing, it doesn’t necessarily pencil as well as a clean site. Razing the buildings and prepping the site for a brand new housing development is probably the most-effective way to go.”
Ford City and Kittanning statistics show that the communities have lost about 1,200 residents combined since the year 2000, and residents are five years older than the national average.
But, outside of the Kittanning Cottages on North McKean Street, there is a lack of those housing opportunities in the region since most homes around the schools were built prior to the end of World War II.
McKnight said the Kittanning Senior High site on Orr Avenue could be utilized multiple ways due to its size.
Even though most of the nearly-700 residents who took an online survey via the school district website wanted the schools to be utilized for professional offices or retail, McKnight did not recommend utilizing the buildings for manufacturing, office or retail business based on the manufacturing or office space that is already available in the Pittsburgh market.
The former senior high school, as well as Kittanning Junior High and Ford City Junior/Senior High have all been designated as Keystone Opportunity Zones.