Updates: Buhl Planetarium and Carnegie Library

                                2002 December


                                      Buhl Planetarium


In 2002 April, after weeks of debate and a public hearing before Pittsburgh City Council, City Council approved a bill allowing the lease of the Buhl Planetarium building to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum for the Museum's proposed expansion project. The Lease was not legally executed until October 24, ironically, the 63rd anniversary of the dedication of Buhl Planetarium.


However, the Children's Museum's groundbreaking for the expansion project, scheduled in June, was delayed indefinitely due to the lack of State funding for the project. Allegheny Regional Asset District funding, also, was not received due to the indefinite nature of the project.


In late November, as part of his "Farewell Tour," Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker came to Pittsburgh and provided $63 million to several City cultural assets, including $8 million to the Children's Museum's expansion project. At this time, asbestos is being removed from the Buhl Planetarium building. An official groundbreaking for the expanded "Pittsburgh Children's Museum and Center" is now scheduled for 2003 January.


The disposition of Buhl Planetarium's historic equipment and artifacts, including the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector [now, the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world !], 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, Mercator's Projection Map of the World, and "Rise of Steel Technology" Mural by local artist Nat Youngblood, is another matter.


The City issued a Request For Proposals [RFP] document in April, regarding the preservation of these four major artifacts. Two organizations submitted proposals by the May 23 deadline. The Carnegie Science Center proposed dismantling and removing the Zeiss Projector, Siderostat Telescope, and Mercator's Projection World Map. They said these artifacts would be reassembled and used following the completion of the Science Center's proposed $62-90 million expansion [Note that the Science Center has not secured any funding for this proposed expansion project!]. Even if reassembled and powered-up, the Zeiss Projector would never provide the superb star and planet displays in The Carnegie Science Center, as it would simply be displayed as an artifact in an exhibit gallery [even if this possibly included projection of a few star-like images on a nearby projection screen].


A new non-profit organization called Friends of the Zeiss, spearheaded by Barry M. Mitnick, Francis G. Graham, Norman M. Downey, John D. Weinhold, and myself, submitted a bid to the City to preserve the four major artifacts, as well as several smaller artifacts, in-place in the Buhl Planetarium building. Our bid suggested ways the artifacts could be maintained, without interfering with the programming of the Children's Museum.


To no one's surprise, The Carnegie Science Center won the bid to preserve the Zeiss Projector, Siderostat Telescope, and Mercator's Projection World Map. However, for months we were not able to get a copy, from the City, of the Science Center's actual bid proposal. The Friends of the Zeiss bid proposal, in its entirety, has been available since the end of May, on our Internet web site for everyone to see:  < http://www.friendsofthezeiss.org >


In November, we finally received a copy of the Science Center's bid proposal. We then learned that the Science Center does not have the $111,020 that they claim is needed to complete their proposed project. Yet, according to the City RFP, the Science Center was required to have this money available by July 25!


Thus, it is clear that the Science Center's RFP proposal did not, at all, comply with the requirements in the "Funding Sources" paragraph of the City RFP document. Hence, it is the position of Friends of the Zeiss that there is no legal basis whereby the City can lease these three artifacts to The Carnegie Science Center. We are now working to ensure that these proposed Leases do not go forward, and the historic artifacts remain in Buhl Planetarium. Seeking legal relief in the courts has not been ruled-out, should the City insist on attempting to execute these proposed Lease Agreements.


gaw                                         (Update: Carnegie Library on reverse side of page)


                                                                Carnegie Library


On November 25 new legislation [Bill 1141] was introduced into Pittsburgh City Council, which would provide for the preparing of official leases for seventeen branch library buildings, between the City of Pittsburgh and The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. However, in City Council's Committee on General Services, Technology and the Arts on December 4, Bill 1141 was suddenly amended to provide an option whereby Carnegie Library could purchase, at their discretion, any or all of the branch buildings for $100 per building. Of course, once Carnegie Library owns the buildings, they could use or dispose of them as they see fit, without any further review by the public or City Council.


As some of you know, I served five years on the Board of Trustees of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, Pennsylvania [including one year as Library Treasurer], and I am the webmaster of an Internet web site on the History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >. During my tenure on this Library Board [which is independent and not affiliated with The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh], there was an attempt to force the library out of its historic building. Hence, I was immediately concerned that some of the historic Carnegie Library buildings in the City may be sold and/or demolished, as a result of passage of Bill 1141.


On December 6, several library supporters and I submitted petition forms to the City Clerk requesting a public hearing in City Council regarding the proposed sale of City property to Carnegie Library. We, respectfully, asked City Council to delay the final vote on Bill 1141 until a public hearing could be held on the specifics of the bill. By a 5-4 vote, City Council voted not to hold a public hearing before final passage of Bill 1141! However, City Councilman Jim Ferlo [who will become a new State Senator, in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in January] was able to amend the legislation, before final passage [Bill 1141 passed by a vote of 7-2], to include a clause requiring City Council approval for the sale of any library building to Carnegie Library.


Carnegie Library claims they need ownership of the library property, to make it easier to receive foundation grants and to deal with contractors for renovations to the buildings. The fact is that other cultural assets which reside on City property, such as the National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and Phipps Conservatory, have had no problems obtaining foundation grants for expansion or rehabilitation projects, or with contracting.


The real reason, for what can only be referred to as a "land-grab," is so that Carnegie Library is able to sell-off certain library buildings to raise funds for their capital program. The four library branches most likely to be sold-off, should ownership of these buildings be conveyed to Carnegie Library, are the branches in the West End, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, and Mt. Washington. These are four of the ten original library buildings given to the City by Andrew Carnegie. In fact, Andrew Carnegie created the world's first extensive neighborhood library branch system in Pittsburgh! In particular, the Mt. Washington Branch sits right on Grandview Avenue, in the middle of a busy tourist corridor. Carnegie Library could buy this building from the City for $100, then sell the property to a developer for a huge sum; the developer could then tear-down the building and construct a new high-rise condominium or apartment building!


Although Carnegie Library claims that they would create new branch libraries in the same neighborhoods where library branches are closed, it is likely that these "new" library branches would be small storefront operations; hence, library service would suffer. When the original Wylie Avenue Branch Library was closed in the Hill District, in the early 1980s, a new Hill District Branch Library was opened in an embarrassingly-small storefront of the Phoenix Hills Shopping Center.


Early next year, Carnegie Library may ask City Council for permission to purchase one or more library buildings. At that time, we will petition for another public hearing before Council, prior to the final vote. Contact me if you are interested in participating in such a future public hearing, either in-person or by letter. I will then notify you when the public hearing is scheduled.



gaw                         (Update: Buhl Planetarium on reverse side of page)


Glenn A. Walsh                                    Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >

P.O. Box 1041                                        Internet Web Sites - Friends of the Zeiss: < http://www.friendsofthezeiss.org >

Pittsburgh PA 15230-1041                  History of Buhl Planetarium: < http://www.planetarium.cc >

Telephone: 412-561-7876                    Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >