Community members gather in front of 216 North Ave. in Millvale before the groundbreaking celebration. Photo by Roman Hladio.

A vacant building in Millvale’s business district is being cleaned up for its new purpose as a green energy-powered community hub.

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Millvale Community Development Corporation (MCDC) hosted a groundbreaking celebration for 216 North Ave. Previously a studio space, 216 North Ave. will become a new home for MCDC operations, host space for up to six retailers and boast a built-in patio stage connected to the Grant Avenue Pocket Park.

The project also received about $90,000 for a 40-kilowatt solar array and an L2 electric vehicle charger through a Green Mountain Energy Sun Club grant.

Brian Wolovich, co-founder and president of the MCDC, says they use “groundbreaking” loosely, as the main structure of the building is still solid.

“We’re very excited to think how we can up the game of the performance of buildings at a community level,” Wolovich said at the event. “We’ve not done green certified buildings before. We’re really excited.”

Architects with evolveEA and engineers with Iams Consulting and Gateway Engineers have been charged with designing and executing the project.

The community development corporation is seeking a Zero Energy Certification from the International Living Future Institute. The certification is provided to structures that are in compliance with their standard that “100% of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis must be supplied by on-site renewable energy. No combustion is allowed,” the Institute’s site reads.

As a founding member of the Millvale Ecodistrict, Wolovich says one of the community development corporation’s goals with the project is to contribute to equity and sustainability within the community.

“What that looks like in reality changes from project to project, but we consistently pursue projects in ways that strengthen the community through six quality of life lenses: equity, food, water, energy, air quality and mobility,” Wolovich wrote to NEXTpittsburgh ahead of the event. “Millvale has been identified by the state as an Environmental Justice community due to ongoing social and ecological challenges, and the Millvale Ecodistrict seeks to take these challenges on.”

Johnny Richardson, Sun Club program manager with Green Mountain Energy, says the project’s immense community backing increased Green Mountain’s desire to assist with the project. The last project Green Mountain Energy took on in Millvale was the Millvale Community Library — their funding allowed for the installation of solar panels in 2015.

Former Pennsylvania State Representative Sara Innamorato signs a solar panel which will eventually be installed on the building’s roof. Photo by Roman Hladio.

“We knew [216 North Ave.] would be the perfect addition in lighting the path of the Triboro Ecodistrict,” Richardson says.

“For them to have the vision and find the necessary funding and means to do that — that’s impressive on its own.”

Although an official timeline for the project was not announced, the groundbreaking celebration marks the completion of the first of three phases for the initiative. The second phase will bring the remodeling of the building’s exterior and add power and lighting, and interior work will begin with the third phase.

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.