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More Vacant Houses to Face City Wrecking Ball

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
September 06, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

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Nine additional vacant houses were added to McKeesport's demolition list on Wednesday as city council awarded a contract to demolish those properties, as well as 85 previously targeted.

By 6-0 vote, the $679,000 contract for Phase III of McKeesport's 2018 city-wide demolition project was awarded to Jadell Minniefield Construction Services of Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood. Councilwoman Lu Ethel Nesbit was absent.

Minniefield in July was awarded a contract to demolish 92 vacant structures. Mayor Michael Cherepko said Minniefield was the lowest responsible bidder on Phase III, and had done excellent work so far.

"He's doing a wonderful job, and I'm glad he bid on our contract," Cherepko said.

For most services and purchases, municipalities are required to solicit competitive bids in an open process. In the past, most bids have been solicited via newspaper advertisements, but several area newspapers --- including the McKeesport Daily News and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review --- have closed, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has cut its publishing schedule.

This year, McKeesport has been experimenting with an online auction process run by a Pittsburgh-based technology company, Enviro21 LLC, to solicit bids from vendors.

Cherepko said Enviro21 is both expediting the process and saving the city money.

Funding for the aggressive demolition project --- which Cherepko has dubbed "McKeesport Rising" --- is coming in part from federal Community Development Block Grant money, as well as from a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the city's sewerage authority to Pennsylvania American Water Company.

In many cases, Cherepko said, Minniefield's crews have been able to tear down a house and remove all of the debris in one day. In other cases, demolition workers must wait until tests are complete in order to comply with Allegheny County regulations regarding asbestos removal, the mayor said.

McKeesport public works employees also have demolished numerous houses this year, Cherepko said, but their focus has been on street paving and repair during the summer, when asphalt plants are open and in production.

Paving crews were working on Desota Street in the East End on Wednesday, he said.

"We also understand that there are still some streets that really, really need (to be paved), but in some cases, we may have seven or eight houses on that street that need to come down," Cherepko said. "It makes no sense for us to pave the street if we then need to go back in and cut off the utilities, and dig up the newly paved road."

The city is trying to sequence demolitions and street paving requests as logically as possible, he said, but some streets may be patched instead of paved.

The city's demolition program was praised in an editorial this week by the Post-Gazette, which congratulated the city for "excising the rot."

"Social rot can follow physical rot," the newspaper's editorial board said. "Abandoned, crumbling buildings can be a staging area for crime. Worse, perhaps, blight can lead to a depressed, dispirited community ... McKeesport is taking control of its destiny."

Of the houses on the contract awarded Wednesday, the nine not previously approved by council are on Auberle Street, Federal Street, Gas Street, Jenny Lind Street, Jersey Street, Ravine Street and Sylvan Avenue.

McKeesport will be holding another hearing on vacant houses in about a month, Cherepko said. At least another 100 properties will be reviewed, he said, most of which are being targeted because of complaints that have been made to the mayor's office either by phone at (412) 675-5020, extension 605, or via email at jen.vertullo@mckeesport-pa.gov.

Jason Togyer is executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. You may reach him at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published September 06, 2018.

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