With new, bright yellow plywood carefully nailed over its windows, the vacant former Mercy Senior Care St. Joseph's building has cast a lonely yet hopeful gaze over Penn Avenue at Aiken, on the border of Friendship and Garfield, since the former nursing home closed in November 2002.
Now, the building that housed the community's elderly for over 100 years will likely be getting new life -- literally. This week, The Children's Home of Pittsburgh signed a sales agreement with Mercy Health Care System to purchase the 2.9-acre, 130,000-square-foot complex for $1.35 million. "The biggest thing our board was considerate of was that we would not just sell it to anybody, but somebody who would be a good fit for the community and continue the healing ministry," says Mercy President Gregg G. Zoller. The new location will also be less than a mile from UPMC Children's Hospital's future setting, at the former St. Francis Hospital site in Lawrenceville.
The Children's Home currently operates medical and adoption programs for children at two different Shadyside facilities, at Negley Avenue and Baum Boulevard. In the last year, says CEO Pam Schanwald, Children's Home has had to turn away families; a new Garfield facility at St. Joe's would allow the nonprofit to double its size, from 23,000 to 50,000 square feet, and expand its programs.
Children's Home hopes to expand its hospital for high-risk infants on their way home from other hospitals' intensive-care units from 11 beds to 20, as well as developing overnight suites "where families can stay right on the unit," Schanwald says. The agency's Child's Way daycare for medically fragile older children (those requiring daily medical supervision) would also expand to accommodate families on a waiting list. A second program would be added to Child's Way, a "pediatric transition unit," allowing children to stay overnight for up to two weeks.
Finally, Schanwald says, the Children's Home adoption administration and counseling programs would also grow: "We do everything related to adoption, soup to nuts ... [and] we're in desperate, desperate need of meeting space." She says they're hoping to put together an adoption library of sorts for the community.
The Children's Home move follows community-wide planning led by the Friendship Development Group, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation and Garfield Jubilee (see "Home Turf," City Paper, March 19). While a majority of residents said they preferred a mixed-use development including stores, rather than another institution, the groups' offer for the property was "well under" the eventual $1.35 million sales price, says FDA Executive Director Becky Mingo.
"Now that they've made the announcement, we're gonna sit down and really talk about the issues," says Mingo -- for instance, how the groups' plans might still aid in the Children's Home's use of the grounds. Schanwald says her group will probably choose a design in October and move in by 2007.
"We need to hire staff, and what better people to hire than people in the community, [especially] former St. Joseph's staff?" she adds. They "were caring for people at the end of life, we're caring for people at the beginning of life."