December 30, 2016
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Kris B. Mamula
The University of Pittsburgh is helping breathe new life into a relic of Pittsburgh’s industrial past by moving the university’s manufacturing help center to Homewood from Harmar.
Pitt recently inked a deal to lease 11,500-square feet in the 150,000-square-foot former Westinghouse manufacturing facility on Susquehanna Street, where the university will offer hands-on training in advanced machine tools and computer-aided manufacturing, said Bopaya Bidanda, who chairs Pitt’s Industrial Engineering Department. The first 15-week class is expected to form in February or March with up to 14 students.
Making the move possible were $500,000 grants to the university each from the Richard King Mellon and Heinz foundation. Separately, state Sen. Jay Costa and state Rep. Ed Gainey announced that Bridgeway Capital, owners of the five-story building at 7800 Susquehanna Street, have received a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to cover ongoing interior remodeling expenses.
The Pitt manufacturing center’s goal is to give people with few skills a shot at a good-paying career, Mr. Bidanda said.
“The intent is to reach people who are disenfranchised, people who don’t have a hope in life,” Mr. Bidanda said. Jobs serving the energy sector could pay up to $18 an hour.
Pitt’s manufacturing access center, founded in 1994 in response to a need expressed by local industry, had been located in Harmar, about 15 miles from Homewood. Unlike Homewood, Harmar is not well served by public transportation, making it difficult to reach for people without a driver’s license or car.
The Homewood building is easily accessible by public transit and will be equipped with a machining lab, lathes, mills, drill presses and other industrial equipment. The center offers hands-on training with advanced tools and computer aided manufacturing, including short run manufacturing support and customized training.
Industrial giant Westinghouse occupied the five-story building on Susquehanna Street, then called the Sussite plant, from the 1920s until the early 1970s, when it was used to make specialty electronic equipment. Downtown-based Bridgeway, a nonprofit, community development financing outfit, acquired the building in 2013, which has more than 20 tenants now, according to Adam Kenney, director of the Craft Business Accelerator at Bridgeway.
“It’s an amazing composition of tenants,” Mr. Kenney said, which includes visual artists, a construction company and other small companies that make ceramic and artistic wood items.
The building is about two-thirds full, Mr. Kenney said.