New Kensington’s Pioneer Apartments adds solar energy system

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/TribLive
February 22, 2024

Maya Horton’s favorite thing about her home in Wesley Family Service’s Pioneer Apartments is peace.

“It’s very peaceful. I have my peace,” she said. “That’s what I like about living here in this building. I go home to a peaceful environment, and I feel safe in my home.”

Horton was the third person to sign a lease to live in Pioneer Apartments in downtown New Kensington when it opened in November 2020. She saw its construction start when she would drive past the Fourth Avenue site from her previous home in Arnold to go to the former Shop ’n Save in New Kensington.

The background check was thorough, she said, but, “It was worth it.”

Between 80 and 100 people live in Pioneer’s 36 apartments, which include one-, two- and three-bedroom units. While there is turnover, the building is typically full, with a waiting list at times, Wesley Family Services CEO Doug Muetzel said.

“The need (for affordable housing) is way greater than the supply is,” he said.

Another 80 to 100 people work there, Muetzel said. Their annual payroll totals more than $2 million.

Created in 2017 from the merger of Wesley Spectrum and Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, Wesley Family Services provides behavioral health care and therapeutic support services for children, adults and families. It also helps people get services they need from other providers, Muetzel said.

“The community here is thriving,” he said. “The staff feel supported to do their work.”

Wesley Family Services takes a holistic approach to helping people to be better across the entire Alle-Kiski Valley, New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said.

“They do a great job of reaching out and helping to solve some of the mental health issues that are all around us,” he said.

The city has had no serious issues with Pioneer Apartments since its opening, Guzzo said. With its mix of residences and offices, providing affordable housing with supportive services, it serves as a successful model.

“It serves a really good purpose, and for that reason it is successful,” he said.

Solar power added

The uniqueness of the facility now extends to its roof, where a solar energy system has been installed to provide power to the common areas of the building’s residential side.

The 104.5 kilowatt solar energy system, installed by local developer EIS Solar, is expected to produce about 110,800 kilowatt hours and reduce the facility’s utility bill by 78%. EIS estimates the system will save Wesley Family Services about $700,000 over 25 years, or $28,000 per year over that time.

The nonprofit West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund gave Wesley Family Services a $170,700 grant toward the system, which cost about $209,000.

“With energy bills rising an average of 40% to 50% over the past few years, along with the incentives of the (federal) Inflation Reduction Act, we are seeing countless customers make significant savings by flipping the switch to solar,” said Joe Morinville, president of EIS Solar. “We congratulate Wesley Family Services for having the vision and resolve to achieve this milestone and move their organization into the clean energy economy.”

Wesley Family Services also was presented with the Lodestar Award from the PA Solar Center for demonstrating local leadership and vision for going solar.

The building’s name is fitting, said PA Solar Center program Director Leo Kowalski, who hopes it will be a solar pioneer inspiring other area businesses and organizations to consider making the switch.

“Wesley Family Services’ solar energy system is a great example of what can be accomplished when the right policies and stellar leadership are in place,” Kowalski said. “It was an honor to help this local, respected institution plan a path forward to making the clean energy transition and saving money that will be better spent in achieving their mission.”

Horton, 41, lives at Pioneer Apartments with her 18-year-old son. They moved from an apartment on the third floor to one on the building’s top fourth floor for its walk-in shower.

“I heard them putting the panels on the roof,” she said. “Anything to improve the quality of the building, I’m all for it.”

A native of Pittsburgh’s East Hills area, Horton has lived in the New Kensington-Arnold area for more than nine years. She previously lived in California, Homewood and Jeanette.

“I like the new development they’re doing,” she said. “It’s a nice little area.”

While Horton says people will try to get away with whatever they can get away with, she said NDC, which manages the apartments, does a good job controlling things, keeps the building clean and is fast to fix things.

“It’s been very peaceful. I don’t have one complaint,” she said, before remembering one. “No, I do. They raised the pop to $2.”

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