OPDC discusses restoration to four historic Pitt buildings


Zoom screenshot

OPDC hosted a Development Activities Meeting to describe restorations to Heinz Chapel, Thaw Hall, the University Club and the Schenley Quadrangle stairs.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

The material used to build Heinz Chapel’s spire has deteriorated since its construction in 1938, and is at a point where a full replacement is needed to ensure structural stability, according to Chuck Alcorn, a planner at Pitt.

“There was the consideration of just replacing the impact of panels, but it would have created patchwork effects that wouldn’t have been pleasing to the eye,” Alcorn said. “We are going to great lengths to do an exact replica of the structure since it is such an important part of the building and a feature that’s looked highly upon in the Oakland community.”

The Department of City Planning hosted a Development Activities Meeting on Tuesday over Zoom with the Oakland Business Improvement District and the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. to review proposed restorations to Heinz Chapel, Thaw Hall, the University Club and the Schenley Quadrangle stairs. According to Alcorn, the restorations include building a banister at the Schenley Quad, replacing the full spire at Heinz Chapel, a roof replacement at Thaw Hall and fixing the dislodged pavers and a leaning banister on the fourth floor of the University Club. 

Historical accuracy is Pitt’s top priority as the restoration of four university buildings begins, Alcorn said.

“We have great pride in the historic structures on the Pitt campus and are going to great lengths to make sure that we do things correctly,” Alcorn said.

Inspections at Thaw Hall, which is located behind the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, found that Pitt needs to replace the entire roof. As one of the oldest buildings on campus, Alcorn emphasized the importance of keeping the material cohesive during restoration. 

“Because of its age, there is an expectation that some pieces will be damaged and pieces that won’t be able to be reused again,” Alcorn said. “Because of that, we will be taking molds of those materials. And there’s an expectation that a new material would need to be molded to form the same pattern and be used on the building.”

According to Alcorn, Pitt plans to raise the banister of the fourth floor terrace 9.5 inches in the University Club to ensure stability as well as implement insulation and waterproofing on the lower terrace for longevity. 

Construction at the University Club will take place from September 2023 to November that same year, Alcorn added.

Alcorn said the stairs leading from Forbes Avenue to the quad between Bruce Hall and Brackenridge Hall aren’t code-compliant, so Pitt must raise the banisters.

“We will try to roughly match the color and tone of the current stone. It is a natural stone, so there will be variations,” Alcorn said. “But we will do our best efforts to match it as best as possible.”

Since these projects are located in the Oakland Civic Center Historic District, Pitt must have all four projects approved by the Historic Review Commission. Alcorn said the University plans to present all projects to the Commission on Dec. 9, with the possible exception of Heinz Chapel. 

According to Alcorn, if Pitt can acquire the original materials used to build the spire, then the project won’t need to be approved by the Historic Review Commission, as it would maintain historical accuracy, unlike the other projects which intend to substitute materials.

Other than the University Club, there is no estimated date of completion for any project. 

However, Alcorn said all the projects are expected to start next year. 

Ose Akinlotan, a neighborhood planning manager, will write a report on the development activities meeting and submit it to the Department of City Planning to receive further community input.

“The DAM report is neutral and makes no conclusions,” Akinlotan said, “If you have strong feelings about the project, you should still consider attending the board or commission meeting and testify.”

This article was updated to clarify that the Department of City Planning hosted the Development Activities Meeting and that the projects are located within the Oakland Civic Center Historic District.