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May 11, 1995

WPIC Children & Youth Center building postponed indefinitely

Plans for construction of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic's (WPIC) long-sought Children and Youth Center have been indefinitely postponed.

Ronald Forsythe, vice president of Facilities and Support Services for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, revealed the delay at the University Senate's plant utilization and planning committee's (PUP) May 8 meeting.

Forsythe said the center, which is near the end of the design stage, is being postponed due to funding changes involving psychiatric services. He added that the state's $9 million contribution to the $18 million project has been "sequestered" and will be reserved for the project.

"Funding for psychiatric services, how money is going to flow into programs, is in a serious state of flux," Forsythe explained. "As best we can tell, much like the delivery of other types of health services, the primary focus is going to be on accessibility, putting programs out into the community where people can have easier, more direct access to them." To make its programs as accessible as possible, WPIC has turned its attention toward exploring ways of offering psychiatric services, including residential treatment programs, at satellite locations around the city and in suburban areas.

"Considering that," Forsythe added, "we thought the wise thing to do with the Children and Youth Center project is to delay it." Forsythe said he does not know how long the center might be postponed, but that the state has agreed to the delay and will sequester its contribution to the project for future use.

Talks on the Children and Youth Center, which is planned to house WPIC's child and adolescent programs, began around 1980. Last summer, WPIC announced that work on the eight-story, 120,000-square foot structure atop the J parking garage on DeSoto Street was expected to begin earlier this year and continue for 14-18 months.

Original plans for the building called for it to contain about 225,000 square feet of space and cost about $30 million, approximately $9 million of which would come from the state and $21 million from WPIC.

Changes in administrations in Harrisburg delayed action on the building until about two years ago, when funds became available through Operation Jump Start, former Gov. Robert Casey's plan to help stimulate Pennsylvania's economy with construction-related jobs.

In other business: * PUP learned that proposals on construction of a student housing facility on the old Pitt Tavern site along Fifth Avenue between Oakland Avenue and Bouquet Street are due by June 12.

Proposals on the project were expected sooner, but were delayed so that geologic and other environmental tests on the site could be completed, according to Ken O'Shaughnessy, director of Property Management/Acquisition and Housing in the Office of Business and Finance.

O'Shaughnessy said tests so far indicate "a good solid rock base" underlying the site.

Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben Tuchi told the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission at its Jan. 24 meeting that the University plans to build a 300-400 bed dormitory on the site. During the PUP committee meeting, however, O'Shaughnessy said that developers have been given an option as to style.

"We gave them [developers] the flexibility to propose an apartment-style or a dormitory-style building for the site," O'Shaughnessy said. "It is a small site and nobody is really sure what might fit there." One prospective developer O'Shaughnessy has spoken with said he feels that a dormitory-style housing facility could be built on the site and was leaning in that direction. However, an apartment-style facility would allow more flexibility for housing graduate students and visiting faculty.

Construction of a student housing facility on the Pitt Tavern site will help the University meet a goal of providing 1,100 additional student beds within the next five years. To gain the Planning Commission's approval of Pitt's master space plan, the University agreed to step up its efforts to create more student housing. The absence of a comprehensive student housing plan in the master space plan was a major complaint voiced by residents of Oakland.

Under the agreement with the city, not all additional student housing needs to be new or even owned by Pitt. One recently unveiled plan for a one million-square-foot apartment building on private land in Panther Hollow also could help the University meet its student housing goal.

Squirrel Hill developer Sol Gross, owner of a 29-acre parcel in Panther Hollow, has proposed the project to the city, but it is still very much in the planning stages.

While Gross has not made any formal presentation to the Pitt administration, Associate Director of Facilities Planning Deborah Rouse told PUP that Gross has spoken to several people at the University about his plan and that it is her impression he is not planning to build the project on his own.

–Mike Sajna

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