The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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January 4, 2014

New educational center in works

Former Sacred Heart building donated for use

SHARON — An effort to create a new local educational center got a major boost as the former Sacred Heart School on Sharon’s West Hill was donated to the group leading the effort.

A recent real estate transfer filed at the Mercer County courthouse showed Brookway Properties LLC deeded the school building to the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. The value of the building and land was pegged at $204,469, according to the deed.

In speaking about the donation Friday afternoon, Larry Haynes, executive director of the Community Foundation, said getting the site was a big step in creating the school for disadvantaged children and adults.

“It’s a good location – it’s in the center of where there’s a lot of poverty,’’ Haynes said. “There’s also nine acres of property there which will allow us to grow.’’

Brookway Properties is owned by Paul and Jim O’Brien, two Brookfield businessmen, Haynes said. Used by the Brookfield School District to educate students while its new school building complex was under construction, the building has sat vacant for a couple years.

For about two years the Community Foundation has led an effort to create a nonproft school patterned after the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corp. in Pittsburgh. With a 95 percent graduation rate, the initial Pittsburgh school is now a case study for business schools.  

At its roots the Pittsburgh school targets students who get ignored, such as those on welfare or people without meaningful job skills. In about a year, those students are trained to enter the workforce in such jobs as lab technicians, pharmacy technicians, medical coders and phlebotomists.

Although students 18 and older attend the school, it also reaches into high schools for at-risk students and creates after-school programs to teach the arts – such as music, ceramics and photography. The simple program gives students the feeling of success and rudimentary technical skills.

The idea has caught on in other states and the concept is looking at going international.

Under the local plan the idea is to create the main school at the West Hill location and then have satellite operations in Warren, Ohio, along with Greenville, Grove City and New Castle, Haynes said.

“We feel like we have a lot of great community support,’’ he added. “The best way to combat poverty is to train people for a job.’’

A steering committee has guided the efforts thus far but an independent board for the local school will be created and that is expected to happen by the end of the month. The nonprofit Strimbu Memorial Fund has committed $25,000 annually over three years as seed money to get the center started.  

Funding sources will be sought with $2 million to $4 million in local money needed to get the operation up and running but state funds also will be requested, Haynes said. The initial budget to operate the center will run between $800,000 to $1 million.

“We want to do this as conservatively as we can,’’ he said of costs.

With 40,000 square feet under roof, plans are for the West Hill school, which as yet hasn’t been given a new name, to undergo a renovation which will account for much of the expenses. Initially, between 16,000 to 18,000 square feet of space will be used with the hopes of growing over time, Haynes said.

In the first year of operation around 80 to 100 students could begin taking classes, Haynes said. As to when the first classes will begin – possibly by the fall of 2014 – but even Haynes said that was a long shot.

“It’s ambitious,’’ he added. “But we really are hoping to turn this into something.’’

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