Filed Under Education

Connelley Trade School (Energy Innovation Center)

Providing Opportunity for Diverse Pittsburghers

For 70 years the Connelley Trade School Building served students seeking vocational education. Today, the building continues its educational legacy in revolutionary ways.

Connelley Trade School sits on a hilltop overlooking the Allegheny River valley. In 1930, it was decided that a new school for vocational professions should be a part of the Pittsburgh Public School District. The current site was chosen because it was close to downtown and accessible from central rail stations but physically high enough so that it would be above the smoke from nearby factories. The site had, since the mid-1800s, been occupied by several homes and the old Central High School building. The school was named after Clifford B. Connelley (1863-1928). He was a school dropout and messenger boy who rose to become a city council member and a prominent member of the Pennsylvania Commission of Labor and Industry. Connelley had been an advocate for the expansion of vocational education across the state.

Facilities to Serve the Steel City

Once construction was completed in 1931, Connelley was the largest building of its type in the state. It boasted features such as a 75-meter swimming pool, gyms, and a full-service kitchen for both education and a delicious lunch! However, Connelley's amazing classrooms are the real focus. It boasted carpentry, plumbing, and plastering classrooms, but it does not stop there. The complex even had sheet metal workshops, auto-mechanic shops, and radio operating laboratories. The building was so large, and classrooms so gigantic, that interior hallways could fit whole trucks within them to facilitate the delivery of materials and the removal of student work.

The War Years

As the drums of war began to beat in Europe, Pittsburgh stepped into its role as part of the Arsenal of Democracy. Connelley led the way in educating Pittsburgh's young workers on the production of war materials. The pre-war period became Connelley's peak. In the 1939-1940 school year, attendance peaked at 1,800 students when the school had been built for 1,600.

During the war, welding and machine shops ran two shifts a day to train students in the making of guns, planes, tanks, and bombs. In the following decades, the wars hurt enrollment, but returning veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam went to Connelley in search of new beginnings. These new students put their skills to excellent use. For example, a student-created mirror ball was used in school dances across the 1950s. During this period, Connelley's students built toy trains, printed cookbooks, and found other ways to fundraise for the local community.

The Turbulent 1960s

During the 1950s, the City of Pittsburgh planned a large urban redevelopment project that would tear down the Lower Hill District (which Connelley was located on the edge of) and replace it with a new "Civic Arena." By 1960, the citizens of the Hill District fought back and held back the redevelopment at the middle hill, but much of the local population that Connelley served had been wiped out.

At the turn of the 1960s, Connelley, like all schools in Pittsburgh and the United States, dealt with the issue of desegregation. While U.S. schools were desegregated by the Supreme Court in 1954, segregation continued in de facto practice afterward. In 1961, the case Taylor vs. Board of Education of City School District of New Rochelle declared that de facto segregation in school districts to be unconstitutional. This resulted in a period of racial tension in Pittsburgh schools as about 900 black students were transferred to white majority schools. However, school-to-school inequality remained high. At Connelley, it was decided that as the 1970s began, budget cuts would make Connelley a paid program only.

A Diverse Group of Students

Connelley served students from across the Pittsburgh area. Many of these students were underperforming at traditional schools or were just seeking vocational training. Harry Habay, from the class of 1944, took hours to hitchhike from his native West Deer all the way to the Hill District to attend Connelley. Newcomers to Pittsburgh were also students of Connelley; many students attended simply to learn how to speak English as a second language. In the 1960s and 70s, these classes were free of charge; however, by the 1990s, due to state budget cuts, the sticker shock of a new $650 dollar-a-semester price tag led to dwindling attendance.

An Amazing Faculty

Some students remember the faculty truly being the most impressive part of Connelley. For instance, Lee Hebermann, who graduated in 1959, was motivated by the high expectations of teachers like Savero DonGiovanni, who pushed him to stay in school and to later pursue goals above and beyond being a mechanic. DonGiovanni would later become vice-principal.

The End of Connelley and a New Beginning

In 2003, enrollment at Connelley had fallen to 730. The following year, $2.5 million in state budget cuts for vocational programs made Connelley unsustainable for Pittsburgh Public Schools. In 2004, the school board voted to close Connelley Trade School after 70 years of operation.

While the building was left vacant, plans began to circulate for a new use for the building. In 2013, part of future Mayor Bill Peduto's campaign included a plan for a "Pittsburgh Connelley for the 21st century." Upon election, Peduto worked with the non-profit developer, Pittsburgh Gateway Corporation, to develop the site for the 21st century. In 2015, at the cost of $47 million dollars, the Energy Innovation Center opened. Inside what was formerly Connelley's complex, The Innovation Center is an office and education space that boasts LEED certified green infrastructure. These amenities include stormwater absorbing trees, electric vehicle charging stations, and a 40-foot wind turbine with enough strength to power the average U.S. four-family household. Today, the Energy Innovation Center brings the spirit of education and innovation of the Connelley Trade School into the 21st century.

Images

Connelley Students Students participate in "Industrial Electricity Class" in the mid-1970s. Source: Pittsburgh Public Schools Photographs, 1880-1982, MSP 117, Library and Archives Division, Senator John Heinz History Center Date: c. 1975
Tailoring Class for Veterans US military veterans attend an adult education class on men's tailoring at the Connelley Vocational School. Source: Pittsburgh Public School Records and Photographs, Detre Library & Archive, Heinz History Center Creator: Samuel A. Musgrave Date: c. 1960s
Connelley Vocational School Exterior The Connelley Trade School as it stood on the eve of its opening. Source: Pittsburgh Public School Records and Photographs, Detre Library & Archive, Heinz History Center Date: October 29, 1930
Physical Education Connelley students attend a first aid class as part of their Physical Education courses. Source: Pittsburgh Public School Records and Photographs, Detre Library & Archive, Heinz History Center Date: c. 1950s
First Connelley Yearbook Some humorous senior biographies from Connelley's first yearbook, 1947. Source: Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center Date: 1947
Connelley and the Civic Arena Connelley Trade School looms over the construction of Pittsburgh's Civic Arena. Connelley served the students whose families were displaced by the arena's construction. Source: Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center Date: c. 1960
Connelley Brochure A brochure printed in the Connelley Printing Shop advertising for the school. Source: Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center Date: c. 1960

Location

1501 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Metadata

Zach Cene, “Connelley Trade School (Energy Innovation Center),” Hill District Digital History, accessed July 20, 2024, https://hillhistory.org/items/show/11.