McCormack Baron Salazar and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) are putting the finishing touches on their redevelopment of the Larimer School which has sat vacant along Larimer Avenue for the past forty years. The opening, slated for mid-summer 2022, will mark the end of a decade’s long community-led process to save this historic neighborhood landmark.
Originally built in 1896 and designed by Ulysses J. Lincoln Peoples, a well-known Pittsburgh architect at the time, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Community members, particularly Larimer activist Ora Lee Carroll and the Larimer Consensus Group, have long advocated for the reuse of the building, but the scale of that task made it nearly impossible until the $30 million Larimer/East Liberty Choice Neighborhoods grant was awarded to the City in 2014.
“The Choice Neighborhoods initiative is an example of what comprehensive, collaborative redevelopment efforts can look like,” said HACP Executive Director Caster D. Binion. “Together with community stakeholders and our development partners, we are truly transforming Larimer to address the community’s needs. The revitalization of the historic Larimer School will take us into the next phase of the ongoing transformation and one step closer to completing HACP’s most ambitious redevelopment effort to date.”
During Choice planning discussions, community stakeholders realized that with support from all levels of community and government this was the prime opportunity to save the building.
“The school not being part of the Choice project would’ve left a hole in the neighborhood, and knowing the amount of effort and support it took to get this done, I can say with a lot of confidence that it would’ve never happened otherwise,” said Lindsey Evans, assistant vice president of McCormack Baron Salazar.
The school redevelopment is the third phase of the four-phase Choice Neighborhoods project. Phase one and two encompassed the construction of Cornerstone Village Apartments which brought 235 new apartments and townhouses—the majority of which are affordable—to the corner of East Liberty Boulevard and Larimer Avenue directly behind Target.
The last two phases will include 84 apartment units. 35 of those units will be housed in the school, with the rest being constructed on parcels of land nearby along Larimer Avenue. Approximately 75% of the units will be affordable to families making 20 to 60% of the City’s area median income.
The school building is made up of three different sections, the first two are old classrooms and the third is the gym and auditorium space. The development team paid close attention to preserving and restoring many of the building’s defining features, including the large corridors, terrazzo floors, distinctive wainscoting, exterior brickwork, and even the original school bells.
“You stand in these spaces inside the school, and gosh, it just looks beautiful,” Evans commented. “There’s so much light and so many transoms. We’re working through the final finishes to figure out exactly where everything will go and how it can speak to the history while being this new and transformative project at the same time.”
The school gymnasium has also seen renovations, including a new roof and many structural elements restored. The Pittsburgh Economic & Industrial Development Corporation, an affiliate of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, holds the master lease and has been working with the Larimer Consensus Group to find an appropriate use and tenant.
Next to the Choice Neighborhoods funding, the project received Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh Moving to Work and Capital funds, a variety of URA funds, and Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency PHARE Housing Trust Funds.
With the end in sight, everyone involved is ecstatic that the project is finally coming to fruition.
“It really was the epitome of a team effort. I don’t think it’s even possible to list all the development partners on this project. But it all came together with the Larimer Consensus Group pushing and saying, ‘It has to happen now or else it’s never going to happen.’”
Waiting lists for the new units are now open. Anyone interested can contact McCormack Baron Management at https://www.cornerstonevillageaptliving.com/.