The exterior of the Deniston School building in Swissvale. Photo courtesy of Mon Valley Initiative.

Swissvale’s historic schoolhouse had become an eyesore.

Since 2012, the former Deniston School has sat vacant and in disrepair. But a collaborative effort of borough officials, the Swissvale Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) and the Mon Valley Initiative (MVI) is giving new life to the property at the corner of Monroe Street and McClure Avenue.

Within the month, the first stage of construction will begin on a $3 million project that will transform the historic schoolhouse into 18 condominiums. This will be the second residential use for the building, which was built in 1902, converted into apartments in the 1980s and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

“The condition of the building was really bringing down an otherwise fantastic neighborhood where property values have been rising recently,” says Patrick Shattuck, MVI’s real estate director.

“All of the character-defining features will stay,” he adds.

Those features include the building’s original large windows, staircase, decorative cornices and moldings. Within the individual units, Shattuck says, a “classroom feel” will be restored and ceilings that had been dropped during past renovations will be raised to 15 feet.

The building’s original windows and staircase will be refurbished and preserved. Photo courtesy of Mon Valley Initiative.
The building’s original windows and staircase will be refurbished and preserved. Photo courtesy of Mon Valley Initiative.

Prices will range from $150,000 to $210,000. But as many as eight units will be structured through the community land trust model, which will reduce their cost by $50,000. To be eligible for these condos, residents can earn up to 80 percent of the area’s median income. The affordable units will be subsidized by Allegheny County Economic Development.

The condos are being designed by LGA Partners (formerly Lami Grubb Architects) and the general contractor on the project is DRS of Greater Pittsburgh.

Modern finishes like granite countertops, engineered wood floors and ceramic tile will enhance the building’s historic features. Bike storage will complement the 20 off-street parking spaces just outside the building, which is nestled behind the Carnegie Free Library of Swissvale.

There will be 15 two-bedroom units, two three-bedroom units and a single one-bedroom unit. Ground floor units will be wheelchair accessible, and those on the top floor will include loft bedrooms, multiple bathrooms and 26-foot ceilings.

The development team is reconfiguring an unfinished attic with dormers and gable windows to accommodate the top floor units, which Shattuck describes as “super dynamic” with “fantastic light” and a tree canopy just outside.

Shattuck anticipates that marketing will begin this spring, with units being sold by realtor Christa Ross with RE/MAX Select. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.

Shattuck believes the building will be attractive to many people, from young professionals to retirees.

“It is in a really stable, inclusive, welcoming neighborhood,” he says. “And it’s convenient — a quick walk to Regent Square, blocks from the Parkway and close to Bakery Square and public transportation.”

Improvements to the building have been a major priority of SEDCO for years.

“It is exciting to see the efforts of so many people reach fruition — MVI, SEDCO and the Borough of Swissvale have all been working together to restore this beautiful old school building,” says Swissvale Council member Tim Ward. “The addition of high-quality condominiums to the neighborhood is going to have such a positive impact.”

Ward, whose family has lived nearby for more than 30 years, says the schoolhouse is special to the community and he’s glad to see the building put to good use while retaining its historical character.

He adds, “We hope to build on this momentum and continue to make Swissvale a great place to live, work and visit.”

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.