On the other side of the Westinghouse Arts Academy parking lot, a stone castle that looks like Hogwarts towers over Wilmerding.
If everything goes according to plan over the next three or four years, the ninth graders at the Charter School can complete their high school education in classrooms at Westinghouse Castle. A group of investors led by developer Bill Malloy from Greensburg is working to raise the estimated US $ 10 million for the restoration of the stately Romanesque building.
“I can’t think of any other building that looks like this, with those huge stones and the huge clock tower,” says Richard Fosbrink, the school’s CEO. “Inside there are so many beautiful, paneled offices and boardrooms with large fireplaces and large executive dining rooms. Architecturally, there are a lot of cool rooms. “
The lock, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been vacant for several years. Officially the former Westinghouse Air Brake General Office Building on Commerce Street, it was built in 1890 by George Westinghouse and built by architect Frederick Osterling. A fire partially destroyed the building in 1896, but it was rebuilt that year and then expanded in 1927, says Fosbrink.
A new nonprofit, Turtle Creek Valley Arts, will sublet most of the building to the high school for art classes and use it for community events after school hours. Fosbrink, Executive Director of Turtle Creek Valley Arts, credits Bill Malloy, managing partner of developer Westinghouse Castle, LP, and Wilmerding Mayor Gregory Jakub with leading the project to bring the castle out of ruin.
“We have some very dedicated first-time investors, five or six people who get things started,” he says. “And we’re talking to other foundations to gauge their support and look for other ways to raise the money.”
In 2016, Priory Hospitality Group’s President and CEO John Graf had hoped to convert the castle into a 40-room destination resort called The Castle Hotel after buying it in a sheriff sale. Graf told the Pittsburgh Business Times last year that the pandemic had limited his chances of funding.
At a recent light night event to announce the new plan for the castle, Fosbrink spoke with Senator Jim Brewster about raising funds from the Remediation Aid Capital Program and other government resources. He envisions using all four floors for a mix of classrooms and laboratories for both traditional arts and digital arts programs – pottery, painting, music, and dance studios, computer and science labs, and television and photo studios.
The top floor would be devoted to a new culinary program for students by day and parishioners by night. They could use the majestic dining and conference rooms, a cafeteria on the ground floor and a large kitchen.
But first, most of the building’s walls, floors, and mechanical systems need to be replaced. Rain and snow collapsed ceilings and damaged plaster and wood, although the steel superstructure is strong and some floors were tiled with terrazzo.
Fosbrink hopes to have the first floor ready for occupancy by the start of the next school year.
“It’s a huge project,” he admits. “The building has been vacant for at least a decade and there is significant damage where the flat roofs have failed. When it rained outside, water ran down the middle stairs. But these roofs have just been replaced. “
Malloy was instrumental in building the Charter School, says Fosbrink. The building initially housed Westinghouse Memorial High School and then became an elementary school for the East Allegheny School District, but stood empty for a decade before restoration.
The Westinghouse Arts Academy was founded in 2017 and has grown from 70 first-year students to currently 320 students. The building offers space for 550 students, but with growth of 30 percent each in recent years, Fosbrink expects to need the castle soon. There is no tuition fee for students in grades 9 through 12 from 32 districts of western Pennsylvania.
“There is a need for [arts-based education]“, Says Fosbrink. “We have seen school districts make tough decisions in the past few years to eliminate arts programs. The need is definitely there. “
Students can audition or present portfolios to attend the academy and after admission they can choose their artistic focus. Her days are a mix of academic classes – math, science, history, languages - and arts programs like music, dance, theater, literature, and studio art.
Fosbrink came here from Chicago where he ran a national not-for-profit organization. He was with the Theater Historical Society of America in Pittsburgh before agreeing to head the academy. He has degrees in music education, visual arts and art management and began his career as a music and theater teacher at high schools.
He is dedicated to sustaining the rapid growth of the school and developing Turtle Creek Valley Arts for the community.
“I’m something of a unicorn for this job,” he says of the resurrection of the castle. “It’s going to take at least three to four years, but you’ve started a lot of work.”