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District Will Try to Save Some GW School Items

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
December 12, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(All photos: Special to Tube City Almanac)

Demolition of the vacant George Washington School in the Seventh Ward will begin soon and take about a month, weather permitting.

That's the word from David Seropian, business manager for McKeesport Area School District, who said demolition crews are going to try to preserve some items from the 1928-vintage building, which closed in 2014.

"I don't know specifically what's being saved, but there are some things we want to try to save," he said Tuesday.

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said the demolition is a positive step forward for the school's neighbors on Sumac and Freemont streets.

"This project has been on the city's and school district's radar for quite some time," Cherepko said. "I'm very grateful that the school district is taking responsibility for this property, and that the burden of this building will be removed from the neighborhood before its condition deteriorates further."

George Washington and Centennial schools were closed when Twin Rivers Elementary, located on the site of the former Cornell Elementary School, opened.

Although closed for only three years, "G.W." has been targeted by vandals and many windows have been broken.

"Whenever you have a vacant building, the longer it gets vacant, you do have some issues," Seropian said. While the doors were boarded up and no trespassing signs are posted, break-ins also were a nuisance, he said.

There was at least one proposal to reuse the school as a religious center, but it never materialized.

The final straw, though, was a major water line break that flooded the second and first floors, causing extensive damage and scaring off potential developers, Seropian said.

Unlike Centennial School, which has been sold and is being converted into a senior citizen complex, G.W. could not be salvaged, he said. "We couldn't sell it in that condition," Seropian said.

The insurance settlement from the water line break is being used to pay for the demolition. Franjo Construction of Homestead was the low bidder for the work at $360,000, Seropian said.

Some of the preliminary demolition work has already been completed and when the building is down, the lot will be filled in, leveled and graded, probably in the spring of 2018, Seropian said.

The demolition will leave the neighborhood with approximately two acres of vacant land, spanning most of a city block.

No decision has been made by the school board on the disposition of the land, Seropian said, but if it has value to developers, the district would be open to suggestions.

Medallions, cast in concrete, decorate the Freemont Street entrance to the school. They depict two scholars, including a woman carrying the torch of knowledge and a man bearing what appear to be books and tools.

Next to the medallions are engraved the phrases, "Education is Indispensable" and "Education Must Be Universal."

In recent years, George Washington had roughly 500 pupils, but enrollment was much higher in the past, Seropian said. Assuming 500 students over the course of 86 years, more than 43,000 young men and women were educated at G.W. during its career.

The district will look at options to sell commemorative bricks if McKeesport Area school district alumni are interested, Seropian said.

But from the district's perspective, "we're glad it's finally being torn down," he said.

Originally published December 12, 2017.

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