Board committee approves LRDC, O’Hara Garage demolition


Wu Caiyi | Staff Photographer

The Properties & Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees approved multiple construction projects at their Thursday meeting.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

More construction crews will soon be rumbling into Oakland, following the approval of multiple construction projects by the Properties & Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees.

The committee unanimously approved a duo of O’Hara Street demolition projects, as well as two other projects, at a Thursday morning public meeting in Posvar Hall — a major step in turning the Campus Master Plan into reality.

Pitt will demolish the Learning Research and Development Center and the O’Hara Garage beginning in May at a cost of $12 million, with completion set for March 2021. The University will first demolish the garage and then the LRDC, while maintaining two-way traffic on O’Hara Street throughout construction. Greg Scott, the senior vice chancellor for business and operations, said the University will take extra care in removing hazardous lead paint and asbestos from the LRDC.

Scott added that LRDC staff will relocate this summer, but it is unclear where precisely they will go. The committee approved a lease last June for space in the former Pittsburgh Athletic Association building on Fifth Avenue across from the Cathedral of Learning, but he said the staff could eventually end up in the Murdoch Building on Forbes Avenue if the deal with Walnut Capital falls through.

The demolition is part of a series of support projects in preparation for the construction of a new recreation and wellness center, which Scott said will now open in fall 2023.

The committee approved $6 million for a year-long renovation of various aspects of the Cathedral of Learning’s ground floor starting this May, including the restrooms, public corridors and ensuring the floor meets all current building codes, such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The group also green-lighted $8 million to renovate about 11,300 square feet of the third floor of Biomedical Science Tower 3 for Pitt’s Brain Institute, with construction beginning this May. The six-month renovation will allow for the Institute’s expanded research on Alzheimer’s Disease by converting existing office space into open labs, equipment rooms, large holding rooms and a MRI facility. The project also includes upgrades to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as the installation of a new 9.4T MRI unit.

Scott provided an update after the meeting on other campus issues, including the proposed hotel and conference center near the University Club and ongoing negotiations for a new dining contract.

After receiving responses to a Request for Proposals issued last year, Scott said the University has decided to partner with Graduate Hotels, a nationwide chain of college-adjacent hotels, on the project. He said many details still remain to be worked out, but that the project team is looking into the possible construction of a new 180-room hotel on the site of the University Club’s Thackeray Avenue parking lot, with a walkway to the Club.

Scott added that the University is also looking at entering into a ground lease for the property, as well as a management agreement with the hotel chain, to allow for sharing revenue earned from the project.

“We anticipate that there would be an opportunity for us to have new revenue coming into the University that really supports the community,” Scott said.

Scott also provided an update on ongoing negotiations for a new University dining contract, due to the June 30 expiration of its current agreement with Sodexo. Pitt is currently reviewing bids from multiple vendors, in preparation of moving forward with one or more companies into more intensive negotiations.

“We are getting close, we’re towards the end of the process,” Scott said.

Scott said the current plan is to select vendors by the end of March or early April, and then complete a finalized agreement with them. The University would write a transition plan, to ensure the new contractor is ready for a July 1 start date, if it decides not to renew with Sodexo.

The full Board will meet Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the William Pitt Union’s Assembly Room, and will take up votes relating to fossil fuel divestment and socially responsible divesting. The Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, a student advocacy group for divestment, has staged a week-long sit-in since last Friday in the Cathedral of Learning to demand the Board to vote to divest.