Salvation Army plans new center

The Salvation Army has announced plans for construction of an $8 million worship and service center in Bellevue, hopefully opening in the fall of 2018 on property that currently houses the Lutheran Service Society (LSS) Center at 440 Lincoln Ave.

Once a Lutheran church, the current stone building has been owned by The Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania since 1996. It offers a meal site and programming directed at senior citizens.

Salvation Army Western Pennsylvania Division director of development Fran Brace, a native of Bellevue, said that the cost of renovating the current building is prohibitive, hence the decision to demolish the current structure and replace it. Brace said that the stained glass windows from the building will be retained by LSS, which plans on moving to a new location in Bellevue. Brace also said that stone from the current building would be used as part of the foundation facade for the new building.

The Salvation Army is part of the Universal Christian Church, and Brace said that the Bellevue center would be, first and foremost, a worship center. It will also, however, feature a full high-school-size gymnasium, off-street parking, a full kitchen and a number of multi-purpose rooms that can be used for programming.

Brace said that the Bellevue center will take the place of one of two Salvation Army centers currently operating on the North Side, specifically the center offering youth programming. The Bellevue center will not, she said, offer drug and/or alcohol treatment or be a residential center. Instead, the Salvation Army is working with the Northgate School District and the North Boroughs YMCA to make sure that local needs are met and services are not duplicated. Among proposed programs are after school activities and meals, a small food pantry for the hungry, and possibly GED classes. The Salvation Army’s goal, Brace said, is to offer a “hand up” to families, not a “hand-out.”

Regarding the Bellevue center, she said, “We want to mold it to be what Bellevue and Avalon need it to be.”

Brace said that youths from the North Boroughs already are coming to the North Side center, and that Bellevue was selected as a location for the new center because it is a walking community and on several bus routes that will allow youths to reach the center.

The plans for the new center were presented at Tuesday’s meeting of Bellevue Council. Several residents who attended voiced concerns about whether the new center would add to the parking congestion already problematic due to the location of Bellevue Elementary School directly across the street. They also voiced concerns about how the adjacent North Howard Avenue might be impacted by increased traffic, and whether the people coming to the center might be a “bad influence” on the community’s children.

To the contrary, Brace said, the center will offer character-building programs that are religion-based, and hopes to provide a “safe haven” to those in need.

The Salvation Army provides a variety of programs both locally and nationwide.