Nineteen middle school teams and four high school teams from Westmoreland County Schools presented their models and spoke passionately about their plans for reusing two vacant buildings in West Newton during PHLF’s 22nd annual Architectural Design Challenge on March 22 and 23. The historic buildings, at 123-127 East Main Street, were formerly occupied by the G. C. Murphy Company.
Many of the student teams showed how the buildings could be adapted as a youth hostel, which was the program suggested because of the proximity of the buildings to the Great Allegheny Passage bike path. For example, Franklin Regional Middle School (Team A) proposed an:
Art Deco-themed youth hostel and diner … . The re-design of this once-flourishing G. C. Murphy Building complements West Newton’s past and the building’s past and paves the way for the rehabilitation of the energy and vigor of downtown West Newton. Our design includes a youth hostel, a diner, a bike storage room, a rooftop lounge, and various other necessities. A goal of our building is to be as green as possible. … However, the main goal of our design is to attract more people into West Newton, especially downtown West Newton, and to make it more energized.
Other teams suggested that the buildings be adapted for use as:
- A fitness center and juice bar
- Parker’s Place, a hotel and café (named for the distinctive Parker-truss bridge in West Newton)
- Vinoski Winery and Riverbank Bed and Breakfast
- PetNet (a pet store) and the Come-and-Go Hostel
Each team created mixed-uses for the buildings that would serve the West Newton community year-round, as well as people biking on the trail. The models were well constructed and incorporated green building and handicap accessible features. Several teams surveyed the West Newton community to determine the best uses for the buildings; many teams researched the history of the community and incorporated historical themes into the new uses they proposed; one team spoke directly with Bill Callahan, Western PA Community Preservation Coordinator, to find out exactly what it meant to be located in a National-Register-eligible Historic District.