Posted on March 16, 2006

Group Drops Plan for Turkish Cultural Center in South Park

Jan Ackerman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 15, 2006

After facing what it saw as anti-Muslim sentiment at a public hearing last week, a Turkish organization has dropped its plan to turn a vacant school in South Park into a cultural center.

“As a group that promotes peace and dialogue, we have never encountered such negativity in our long history here,” the West Penn Cultural Center board said in a statement yesterday.

The group will withdraw its application for a permit to turn the old Broughton Elementary School into a facility where members of the Turkish community could adapt to American culture while maintaining Turkish traditions and language. They also planned to worship in one of the classrooms on Friday afternoons.

At the public hearing, some residents said they didn’t want the cultural center to renovate the school, claiming Islamic centers and mosques can harbor sleeper cells of terrorists.

Barbara Houston, program director of the South Hills Interfaith Ministry in South Park, which promotes interfaith dialogue, said she was devastated by the news. She attended last Thursday’s hearing.

“I feel defeated. How heartbreaking for us. We should be ashamed in this community,” she said yesterday.

George A. Smith, chairman of the township board of supervisors, tried to focus last Thursday’s hearing on zoning issues, but said some speakers made comments that were “inappropriate.”

“Some of the remarks were hurtful. It was unfortunate. That is not how one man should treat the other,” said Mr. Smith. He conceded that the cultural center’s decision to pull out of South Park will “make a lot of people happy.”