Friendship House may be able to sell a prime asset, the vacant Lincoln School, to the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority.
Thomas J. Radich, acting executive director of the authority, inspected the building this week with an engineer of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Renewal. Radich envisions 20 to 25 senior apartments on the two top floors and a wide array of programs below."
"As far as we know right now, we're going ahead," said Radich. "The engineer is probably going to give us some direction on how to proceed with a feasibility study. Our next step would probably be an appraisal."
Radich said he hopes for the help and support of the City of Lackawanna, Lackawanna Community Development Corp. and possibly the Lackawanna School District, original owner of the building.
"The building is three stories, with a full gym, cafeteria and auditorium," Radich said. "The programs you can run out of there are unbelievable."
Jimmie Royster Jr., chairman of the Housing Authority, grew up in the projects and has been involved with Friendship House from infancy,when he was in day care there. He said the old school building Friendship wants to sell is a solid structure.
"We definitely need senior housing in the First Ward," he said. "You have an existing building that could be rehabilitated. I've been talking to some doctors about a clinic."
Friendship House was established in 1911 by the Presbyterian churches of Buffalo to provide services to families near the Bethlehem Steel plant. In the early 1950s, the nonprofit agency bought, and relocated to, the former Moses Taylor Hospital on Ridge Road, an adjunct of Bethlehem Steel where injured workers were treated.
In the late 1980s, the agency acquired its second landmark, Lincoln School, hoping to open its own school there. That fell apart when Friendship House lost a sexual discrimination suit to its former nurse, who was awarded $353,000 that the agency couldn't pay.
Royster headed a community committee to try to save Friendship House. He sees Radich's interest in the old school as hope for new life for the vacant school and the struggling social agency.
"Both would be saved, and we would be doing double services," said Royster.
Ricardo Estrada, now First Ward councilman and chairman of the Friendship board of directors, could not be reached to comment on the unpaid award in the sexual discrimination lawsuit.
On Dona Street between Wilmuth Avenue and A Street, Lincoln School is a short distance from the old Amadori site, earmarked for industrial redevelopment. It is also near 27 new Wilmuth Avenue homes, valued at about $90,000 each. Royster and other former Housing Authority residents are among the owners.
The north side of Lincoln School borders an older Lackawanna neighborhood where steelworkers lived years ago.