Category: Kittanning Borough

Kittanning Council Considers Use Former High School

Items were liquidated from the former-Kittanning Senior High School in November. (KP File Photo)

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.

Financing Approved for Jacob Street Re-Paving

Senate Engineering’s Bill Braun and Armstrong County Department of Planning and Development Project Manager Sally Conklin discuss the grant and loan funds Kittanning Borough is trying to utilize to pay for Jacob Street paving.

by Jonathan Weaver

A majority of Kittanning Borough Council unanimously voted to enter into a loan agreement with a regional bank to complete a local paving project, but it remains unclear when the contractor will resume work.

Last night, six council members voted to borrow $250,000 from First Commonwealth Bank at a 1.99 percent interest rate with $250 due at closing.

Missing from last night’s special meeting were First Ward Councilman David Croyle and Fourth Ward Councilman Andy Peters.

Council members opened bids from six lending institutions at April 4’s regular meeting. The financing agreement with First Commonwealth at that time was pending Solicitor Ty Heller’s further review.

A few weeks ago, Heller explained why he and other Borough officials recommended borrowing.

“With some of the funds coming back from PennDOT on the Market Street project, there’s a temptation to think that we can pay some of that money and reduce the amount we borrow,” Heller said. “Because of the timing (PennDOT’s) coming to ask us for a match is uncertain, and because we don’t want to impede the Borough’s ability of cash flow, because you’re only paying interest on the money as you borrow it and since we’re anticipating the borrowing is only a short-term thing, it seems to us the best option would be to borrow the money.”

Earlier this month, Senate Engineering’s Mike Malak reported Russell-Standard contractors from Pittsburgh tentatively wanted to begin resurfacing yesterday, but colleague Bill Braun explained why the contractors were not in town despite the humid weather.

“Late last week, they called me and said they changed their plans for three reasons: because the samples taken were not representative of the project, their density testing was good (and) their third reason was that they haven’t been paid anything yet,” Braun said.

Contractors milled and paved the road in October, but two of the three core samples failed testing and Kittanning Borough adhered to PennDOT’s advice and refused payment.

Kittanning Borough hopes to pay Russell Standard through two grants: a $250,000 Keystone Communities grant and a nearly-$220,000 Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant. About $137,000 in TAP grant funds remain.

The borough also borrowed a $700,000-low interest loan from Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank for several paving projects in 2014.

Solicitor Ty Heller said he wants Kittanning Borough to “stretch every dollar” it can.

Heller said it was important to have the financing agreement and to utilize as much of the TAP grant first.

“If we don’t use all the Keystone Communities funding on Jacob Street, that would be available for other things,” Heller said, such as the Phase III Market Street paving. “Just trying to stretch every dollar.”

Keystone Communities funding is also going toward the borough’s Phase II match.

County Planning and Development Project Manager Sally Conklin explained she was first informed that the Borough would be reimbursed by PennDOT provided a copy of the check was received. However, that process changed a few weeks ago as well and a check isn’t expected until about Memorial Day.

PennDOT officials previously accepted the first pay estimate of $254,000. The inadequate Jacob Street wearing surface deducted about $41,000 from the estimate to be paid.

“As soon as we have it, we’ll pay it,” Heller said.

Braun said PennDOT wants all invoices for the paving project by June to utilize all available grant funds.

Borough officials will try to set up a meeting with Russell Standard and legislative representatives as soon as possible.