Gladstone Middle School used to be a beloved Hazelwood institution — until it shut down. With a new design and business plan for the building, Center of Life is working to turn it into a community asset. Welcome to Project Gladstone.

Everyone in Hazelwood remembers Gladstone Middle School. Since it was built in 1915, the institution was a hub of the community, educating students during school hours and providing space for community organizations to run afterschool activities in the evening. But after many decades, the building became too expensive for the school district to operate due in large part to low student enrollment numbers and high utility costs. In 2001, Pittsburgh Public Schools shut the school down, and it sat vacant for 14 years.

Those years were an important period of change for Hazelwood. From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s the community endured a rash of violent crimes. Residents of the neighborhood saw the LTV Steel Co. plant, the last big steel plant in Pittsburgh, demolished in 1999, and career and educational opportunities for Hazelwood residents continued to diminish. This once bustling neighborhood now saw a shooting almost every week. In response to a need he saw in Hazelwood, Reverend Tim Smith founded the nonprofit Center of Life in 2001 to provide afterschool activities for youth.

While Center of Life continued to grow into a thriving organization with over fifteen employees and a budget of over a million dollars, Hazelwood saw a change too. The violence that had once been prominent dropped off drastically, and the community began a path toward renewed success. The LTV Steel site became the location of a planned business district. All the while, the Gladstone building sat empty.

Then, in 2015, Pittsburgh Public Schools put the Gladstone building up for sale. In response, Center of Life worked with The Hazelwood Initiative, the Make It Right Foundation, and Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment group to hold a series of community meetings to determine what Hazelwood residents wanted for the future of the building. When a clear plan emerged to turn the building into a community resource, Center of Life and The Hazelwood Initiative made a joint bid. Pittsburgh Public Schools sold the building to the coalition in 2016.  

Since the sale, Center of Life has been working to translate the community’s vision into a reality. The organization hired WTW Architects to create a feasibility study, including a new design for the building and a business plan. Center of Life set up the Project Gladstone website as a place to tell the story of Gladstone and Hazelwood, as well as to invite the community to share their memories and hopes for the future.

About Center of Life

Center of Life (COL) is a community-empowerment organization located in the Greater Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.

Our programs focus on music and arts, athletics, and education. Our vision is to empower and equip families to bring economic revitalization to their communities. Our mission is to provide families and youth with the life-skills, education, training, and resources necessary to be strong and to make their communities strong. We believe this is achieved through building sustainable partnerships locally, nationally, and internationally. At Center of Life we believe everything is about people.

Founded in 2002 by Tim Smith, Center of Life (COL) stands with the people of Hazelwood as they strive to be strong and to make their community strong. With its roots planted deeply in the community and supported by extraordinary partners, Center of Life serves Hazelwood and its surrounding communities with rich academic out-of-school programs and outstanding experiences in music and arts. Center of Life employs a holistic approach to community through all of its programs, believing that commitment to others is most productive when you walk with those served in their schools, homes and families.