Oakland Business Improvment District plans use of former Children’s Hospital

By Katie Campbell

A wide open lawn — that’s what the former Children’s Hospital will look… A wide open lawn — that’s what the former Children’s Hospital will look like by this November.

Two UPMC Shadyside officials presented their plans for the vacant hospital at a public meeting in the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Oakland last night.

The meeting, sponsored by the Oakland Business Improvement District, was the first of two designed so UPMC officials can inform Oakland residents and business owners of their plans for the site, located on Fifth Avenue. The second meeting will be held in the hotel this Thursday at 8 a.m.

“This is not a session for public input,” said Georgia Petropoulos Muir, the executive director of the business improvement group. “These are definitive plans.”

UPMC officials spent the past few weeks gathering ideas from the public. The hospital has been presenting ideas to a couple of groups, including members of Oakland Business Improvement District, said Susan Manko, a spokeswoman for UPMC. “They have proactively planned all these meetings,” she said.

The members of the Oakland Business Improvement District did not oppose any of UPMC’s ideas, Muir said.

“We didn’t feel a need to take a position,” she said. This is because of two factors: UPMC is a member of the Business Improvement District, and the former hospital’s property isn’t part of their bid.

“We don’t collect assessments from that whole side of Fifth Avenue,” Muir said.

Even though the site of the former hospital is not in its jurisdiction, the Oakland Business Improvement District hosted these meetings because business owners wanted to know what was going on, said Mary Davidson, the improvement district’s marketing and communications coordinator.

Tom Schwartzmier — senior project manager of planning, design and construction at UPMC Shadyside — and Denise Rafferty, the hospital’s director of planning, design and construction, explained construction details to those at the hotel.

Schwartzmier said, “We want to get the bulk of it done while Pitt students are away for the summer.”

The largest part of the former hospital is the DeSoto Building, an older wing on Fifth Avenue that extends up Desoto

Street across from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. It is scheduled to be demolished between May 1 and Oct. 15 of this year, Rafferty said.

The first step in this process is the asbestos abatement, which has been underway since February. Workers will check for and remove any asbestos left in the building before they begin any construction projects. Rafferty and Schwartzmier explained that the next steps will be design and commission meetings, demolition and landscaping.

They presented the list of approvals they must receive before they can begin demolition, the last of which is from the City Planning Commission on March 30.

Rafferty and Schwartzmier included pictures of what the completed project will look like in their slide show.

“We chose to leave it open, so people can do whatever they want, kind of like the lawn by the Cathedral,” Rafferty said.

A grassy lawn, surrounded by a row of trees and several areas for seating, will replace the DeSoto Building.

“We also want to deepen the pad where the bus stop is,” Rafferty said.

She pointed out the sides of the building currently adjoining the DeSoto Building.

“What we’re attempting to do is match the siding so it doesn’t look like we ripped off a building there,” she said.

Schwartzmier said “Our goal is to have the trees and grass done by this coming winter.”

He said UPMC will monitor dust levels throughout the process and will watch a live video feed of the demolition site from its computers.

“Everyone wins if we can keep the dust down and do this in a green kind of way,” he said.

The demolition will take place primarily during daylight hours. Schwartzmier said they chose to work during business hours to ensure their project doesn’t disturb the sleep of those living in Oakland.

Beyond the DeSoto Building, UPMC’s master plan for the Oakland campus is scheduled to be complete within six months. The entire project will take three to five years.

The next plans will involve Forbes Tower. They will consolidate most in-patient operations into UPMC Presbyterian and move emergency services primarily to Montefiore. Rafferty and Schwartzmier said they don’t know any details of those plans yet.

“I’m sure we’ll be back when we know exactly what we’re doing,” Rafferty said.