DeSoto deconstruction delayed

By Gwenn Barney

Come winter — well, come spring — Pitt students will be able to enjoy a new green space… Come winter — well, come spring — Pitt students will be able to enjoy a new green space right by campus, if only for a little while.

Workers will replace the DeSoto Building on Fifth Avenue, which used to hold UPMC’s Children’s Hospital, with a landscaped lawn area by the middle of December. UPMC plans to replace the plaza with another building in a few years.

Deconstruction of the DeSoto Building was supposed to be completed by Oct. 15, according to Tom Schwartzmier, senior project manager of planning, design and construction at UPMC Shadyside. Now, that deadline has been moved to the middle of December.

The plaza is planned to be a grass lawn with seating and streetlamp lighting. Schwartzmier said it will be similar to Schenley Plaza but on a slight slant, since the DeSoto Building was built on a hill.

The completion of the plaza’s construction was delayed because of early complications involving asbestos removal.

Susan Manko, a spokeswoman for UPMC, said that everything is now going according to the new schedule. “We hope to have [the project] completed by the end of the year, and at that time we can prepare the land for a green space,” she said.

When the deconstruction is complete, construction workers will begin laying out grass and other landscaping over the demolition site. Landscaping for the plaza will include flowers and trees meant to beautify the area. The entire project should be complete by Dec. 31, with the exception of some of the landscaping, Schwartzmier said.

“We should be able to get a lot of the grass done before the winter,” he said. “But we might not finish final landscaping.”

Originally, construction workers planned to demolish the DeSoto Building in parts. Once asbestos was removed from one section of the building, that section would be demolished.

Schwartzmier said city safety regulations dictate that fire sprinklers must be turned on in any building while asbestos is removed. To keep the building’s piping together for sprinkler use, the building had to be demolished only after the whole building was cleared of asbestos.

The change in plans set the entire demolition process back about two months, according to Schwartzmier.

Workers tried to make up for lost time by conducting double shifts. Part of the work going into these shifts is based around making the deconstruction of the DeSoto Building a purely “green” project. Workers have collected steel and copper among other materials from the debris and brought them to scrap yards to be recycled.

“We are recycling as much material as we can.” Schwartzmier said.

Under the green-deconstruction theme, workers will use debris to fill in the large basement space left empty by the old building, rather than bringing in more foreign materials to do the job. All of these actions, in addition to the green final product of a grassy plaza, gain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green-building certification program) points for any future building UPMC puts on the site.

Currently, UPMC plans to replace the plaza three to five years after its completion with another building. The forthcoming building will likely be an addition to UPMC Presbyterian hospital, though Schwartzmier said plans are not officially in place.

“We’re not spending a lot [of money] because in three to five years we’re going to be tearing it up,” Schwartzmier said. “But for those three to five years we want to make it attractive and inviting for people.”