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Renzie’s Main Pavilion Gets Major Makeover

New windows, flooring, sidewalks part of $373K rehabilitation

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
March 01, 2024
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport city electrician Tom Rosso and Nate Graboski of the public works department replace lighting and wiring in a ceiling at Jacob Woll Pavilion. The heavily used facility is receiving a makeover with the help of Allegheny Regional Asset Funds. (Tube City Almanac photo)

There are no events scheduled at Renziehausen Park’s main pavilion this spring — but it's not for a lack of interest.

The heavily used Jacob Woll Pavilion is closed for a makeover that will include new windows, flooring, lighting, ceiling fans, sidewalks and other improvements. Funding for the $373,300 project is being provided by the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which is supported by the county’s 1 percent sales tax.

Work is expected to be complete before the summer, said Tom Rosso, McKeesport city electrician, who is serving as project coordinator.

Rosso said the renovations will repair years of wear and tear — including roof damage that dates to the Blizzard of 1993, which caused the north wall of the pavilion to develop an outward bow of several inches.

Chains and weights have now pulled the wall straight again, and reinforcements are in place.

Plavchak Construction Co. of Elizabeth was the lowest bidder and was awarded the renovation contract at city council’s January meeting.

The project was budgeted at $500,000, McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said, and because Plavchak was under that estimate, the city may be able to expand the scope of the work.

One area that needs attention — and which was not part of the original bid — is the basement of the building, he said. That area is used as a locker room and training facility by the McKeesport Little Tigers football team.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to do some work in the basement as well,” he said.

Plavchak has completed other public works projects in McKeesport and has the city’s confidence, Cherepko said. The firm also will be replacing lights at Stephen Barry Field.

New lighting, siding and windows are among the improvements planned for Jacob Woll Pavilion. Also visible in this photo is the system used to straighten a wall damaged by the weight of heavy snow during a blizzard in 1993. (Tube City Almanac photo)

The pavilion was named in 1969 for Jacob Woll, former McKeesport superintendent of parks and horticulturist of Renzie’s famous rose garden, the second-largest in Pennsylvania. But the Jacob Woll Pavilion dates to the park’s very early days, and may be older than Renzie Park itself.

The park was created in 1931 after McKeesport department store owner Henry H. Renziehausen donated $50,000 for the city to purchase a 16-acre picnic grove from the McKeesport Turn & Gesangverein, or “Turners,” club. Newspaper clippings announcing the donation refer to a “dance hall” or “dance pavilion” on the property.

During World War II, according to newspaper clippings, a military police battalion used the main pavilion at Renzie as barracks and a mess hall for patrols in the McKeesport area.

A 1942 story from the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph states that walls were hastily added to the main pavilion and another building at Renzie Park so that they could be used by Company B of the 720th Military Police Battalion, but that despite the improvements, the dance hall remained “drafty.”

Crews remodeling Jacob Woll Pavilion found this piece of cardboard, hidden inside a wall, signed by workers during a 1940 renovation project. (Tube City Almanac photo)

Rosso said workers remodeling Jacob Woll Pavilion have found evidence of its past hidden behind more recent modifications, including 1960s copies of The Daily News that were stuffed into the walls for insulation.

Also found was a piece of cardboard dated April 2, 1940, and apparently signed by city workers during another renovation project — possibly the one that added outside walls to the building. Names still visible include Tony Marino, Antal Kadar, Joe Dorn and Jim Suckfiel.

(Tube City Almanac photo)

Unlike the 1940s and 1960s, when the cost of electricity and natural gas was low and newspapers were commonly used as insulation, energy efficiency is a goal of the 2024 renovation. Rosso pointed out areas in the existing exterior walls where gaps were visible through the cedar paneling.

Those gaps are being closed as part of the renovation. Plavchak is also installing new insulation and metal paneling, and some air-conditioning ducts are being relocated for better efficiency, Rosso said.

The new lighting uses energy-efficient LEDs and will include overhead fixtures as well as indirect lighting.

Electrical outlets and switches are being relocated to make them easier to use during events, including the annual Festival of Trees in December.

The stage at one end of the pavilion has been expanded to add another 40 square feet, Rosso said. A movable video screen is being added as well.

The exterior of the pavilion will retain its original rustic appearance, although some sidewalks are being replaced and security cameras are being installed both inside and out, he said. Interior upgrades also will include cedar paneling and decorative stone pillars.

Renziehausen Park has received funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District since the very inception of the so-called “RAD tax.” Last year’s funding totalled $1.3 million, including capital and operating grants.

Since 1995, funding from RAD for Renzie Park has topped $22 million, according to county figures.

Originally published March 01, 2024.

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