PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh School Board member Mark Brentley told the conservator appointed by the courts to handle a possible sale of the August Wilson Center that at least an ad hoc committee of the board is interested in finding out what it would take to buy the facility.
“We are interested,” Brentley told retired Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald. “We’re, of course, not at any liberty to discuss details. We hope to be in touch with you within the next 45 days.”
Fitzgerald spoke by phone to the committee meeting at the school district headquarters Friday morning. The goal of the meeting was to field brainstorming ideas for possible future uses of the center.
She told them the plan, at this point, is to handle the sale in one transaction.
“That does not mean that we’re trying to sell these assets piecemeal,” said Fitzgerald. “In fact, we’re not trying to sell assets piecemeal. What we’re trying to do is find either a buyer or long-term leases in the facility that will generate enough income to satisfy the debt.”
The total debt is now estimated at about $10 million.
KDKA’s Harold Hayes asked Brentley about taxpayers who might have concerns about the school board taking over something like this given the board’s own financial situation.
“I am really not too much concerned about that,” said Brentley. “Our job is to provide quality public education for the students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is a unique opportunity here. Not only can we acquire it, and possibly get ownership, but there’s an opportunity of expanding our capacity on the successful programs we have.”
An option on the table is to expand the Creative and Performing Arts High School, which is successful and has a waiting list to get in.
But it’s uncertain if that could generate enough money on its own to be self-sustaining. Its likely partnerships would have to be explored.
Former board member Randall Taylor supports a collaborative effort to keep the center open but is not certain an expansion of CAPA is financially viable.
“One of the things I want to say is that I don’t agree with is the expansion of CAPA. CAPA is a very expensive program to run,” he said.
Taylor also suggested asking for donations from pro athletes and actors who’ve performed some of August Wilson’s plays.
It was an emotional meeting. Tim Stevens, of the Black Political Empowerment Project, recalled what it took to build the center and came to tears.
“The idea of even the possibility of that building being bought by somebody and torn down would be heartbreaking,” said Stevens.
Brentley says he’ll have another meeting hoping to have more information by then so that the board can make an informed decision.
Dollar Bank will continue to carry the mortgage and pay the utilities through the end of June.
But the conservator says she wants whatever proposals there are in hand by the end of March so she can evaluate which proposals are most viable.