Waynesburg University buys old county office building

March 6, 2014
The old county office building at 57 E. High St., the tallest building in downtown Waynesburg, was purchased by Waynesburg University. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – Waynesburg University announced Thursday that it has purchased the old county office building in downtown Waynesburg, apparently ending plans by the former owner to renovate the vacant six-story building into apartments.

The university, in a release issued in response to an inquiry made by the Observer-Reporter, said it purchased the building, which was vacant for more than 20 years, as part of its commitment to the “long-term safety and prosperity” of the borough.

The building is in a “rundown state,” the university said in its release. While vacant, glass from its windows, shattered by high winds, and exterior brick have fallen from it, forcing the borough to close North Church Street that runs alongside it to traffic.

Developers also investigated rehabilitating the building, the university said. “In each instance, they ultimately walked away,” said Terry Sattler, the university’s director of facilities, planning and management.

“If the university wanted to invest in real estate in downtown Waynesburg, we would follow the example of everyone else who has looked at the building and buy something else.”

“The lot is narrow and practically unusable for any type of future development,” Sattler said. “Our goal is to keep our students and the community safe, and you can’t put a price on that.”

The university did not say what it intends to do with the building, only that it is reviewing options. It also failed to say how much it paid for the building.

The property was purchased from John McNay, who could not be reached Thursday for comment.

McNay and a Beaver County contractor were recently working on plans to renovate the building into 28 apartments. That plan was opposed by the university at borough zoning hearings in the fall.

McNay was required to receive zoning approval for a plan to provide the required number of parking spaces for the building’s tenants. The plan involved subleasing space in the parking lot on Franklin Street that the borough now leases to the county.

An attorney for the university attended the zoning hearings and argued the plan did not conform to the borough’s zoning ordinance or the master plan prepared for the borough in 2008, which was paid for by the university and drafted by the university’s architect.

The master plan, which designates the old county office building space as a potential parking and event space, never adopted by borough council. After a hearing that started in September and concluded in October, the zoning hearing board approved McNay’s plans.

The building was constructed by the Peoples National Bank and was opened in August 1907. After the bank closed, the building was sold to the county, which used it as an office building from 1952 to 1989.

The building was sold to McNay in 1994. In 2009, another contractor proposed purchasing the building and converting it into offices. The project, however, was never realized.

After brick fell off the building in the summer 2012, the borough closed North Church Street to traffic. Council also voted at that time to take legal action against McNay if something wasn’t done with the building. The borough subsequently delayed any action against McNay after being informed a developer had expressed interest in the property.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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