OPDC talks new recreation and wellness facility, building renovations


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The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. held a meeting with the Oakland Business Improvement District and the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning on March 21.

By Allison Radziwon, Senior Staff Writer

Mary Beth McGrew, vice chancellor of the Office of Planning, Design and Real Estate, said Pitt’s proposed new recreation and wellness center is “long awaited” for students. 

“It’s a critical part of the master plan, in response to the surveys that were done, where the students had a very, very strong desire for some recreation on campus — more than we have, which is not very much — and also the forward thinking of our dean of students to add wellness to that and make the campus rec and wellness center,” McGrew said.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. held a meeting with the Oakland Business Improvement District and the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning on March 21 to discuss the proposed construction of a new recreation and wellness facility at 3921 O’Hara St., as a part of Pitt’s Institutional Master Plan first pitched in October 2019. The meeting’s attendees also discussed proposed renovations for the William Pitt Union patio and renovations to the exterior of Langley Hall.

Phillip Wu, a neighborhood planner for City planning, said since the William Pitt Union and Langley Hall are both located in the Oakland Civic Center Historic District, the Historic Review Commission will review them. Wu also said the Planning Commision will review plans for the recreation center.

McGrew said the center will include fitness rooms, wellness areas and multipurpose rooms, as well as a pool, sky gyms, climbing wall and bouldering areas. She said she especially likes the “sky gym” as a feature of the new recreation center.

“As you run around, it should be an awful lot of fun to look down over the campus proper,” McGrew said.

According to McGrew, a dining area will serve healthy food in the center’s lobby.

“There’s a focus on healthy food,” McGrew said. “They have a lot of adjectives to describe that, working on growing some of the herbs themselves to put in the salads and the food, so it ought to be a pleasant experience.”

McGrew said the recreation and wellness center is currently under construction at the site of the former O’Hara Garage and Learning Research and Development Center building.

“It actually uses the same footprint that the O’Hara Garage and the educational building that were demolished, and then it presses up against that hillside,” McGrew said. “That strategy was to be less invasive to this hillside and make sure we weren’t destabilizing anything.”

According to McGrew, while construction on the roadway and utilities has already started, Pitt’s goal is to start construction of the building itself in late spring or possibly in June. Wu said the recreation center will open in fall 2024.

McGrew also said Pitt first renovated the William Pitt Union in the 1980s to extend the porch on the Forbes Avenue side of the building. She said the porch has started leaking into the building below, where food venues are located.

“The porch doesn’t meet any of the safety guidelines right now, because there are no railings — there are planters that aren’t very high. In addition to that, there is a step to get onto it,” McGrew said. “So the goal of the project is first and foremost to get rid of the leaks as we do things to level and raise the porch just enough so you can get out of the door and enjoy the porch, and put a railing around it so that it can be enjoyed.”

Chuck Alcorn, a planner for the Office of Planning, Design and Real Estate, said Pitt will demolish and combine two existing lecture halls in Langley Hall into one larger lecture hall, which will require exterior modifications.

According to Alcorn, the exterior renovation will include the installation of a new window, which will let natural light into the larger lecture hall. He said they’ll also remove a side door near the main entrance to the building, along with the overhead light and concrete path.

As a former Pitt student himself, Alcorn said natural light in classrooms is necessary.

“I was actually a Pitt student years ago, and took a class in one of these auditoriums, and any natural light would have been appreciated in this space,” Alcorn said.

An Oakland resident asked McGrew if the recreation and wellness center will be open to the community.

McGrew said the decision to open the building to the public is up to the Student Affairs Office, since the building was paid for using student fees.

“That’s really up to the Student Affairs folks. I know we do have a leisure-learning program that will continue in Trees Hall, and there’s no plan on taking down Trees Hall. So I think we’ll get the students acclimated first, and I think that’s a good question for the future,” McGrew said. “This was something paid for by the student fees for the most part, but as you know we often open our venues to the community for their use.”