Carnegie Mellon University hopes to transform Hazelwood into a manufacturing innovation center with the launch of a massive new project.

The university is in the process of building a first-of-its-kind advanced robotics manufacturing hub within the walls of an abandoned riverfront site that once housed the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company’s Hazelwood Works plant. The three-story, 94,000-square-foot facility — which is scheduled to open in spring 2019 — will provide research, development and office space for two CMU ventures, the Lawrenceville-based Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM) and the interdisciplinary Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI).

Interim CEO for ARM, Gary Fedder, believes the new site will help expand the efforts of his organization.

“Our mission is to accelerate adoption of robotics into companies so that they make more jobs and grow in the U.S.,” he says.

They plan to achieve that goal through an approach that includes education and workforce development and de-risking robotics technologies.

“We need space for all of that,” says Fedder.

He goes on to say that they decided to construct an entirely new building within the outer shell of the old steel site for “architectural glamour,” and to maintain a connection to the city’s industrial history.

“They’re stripping the skin off the building but keeping the girders and framework,” says Fedder, adding that the remains of the old building would act as a sort of exoskeleton.

Rendering of the Hazelwood Green advanced manufacturing hub. Credit: MSR Design, Ten X Ten and R3A.

It would also serve a practical purpose as a foundation to install solar panels, one of the many ways CMU would offset some of the facility’s energy costs and make it more environmentally friendly.

ARM and MFI will take the first two floors, with the third floor being open to future tenants.

“I think very quickly we’re going to find people who want to move in,” says Fedder. “We’re excited about embedding research and development people from companies into our building.”

The hub is expected to bring new life to the surrounding 178-acre brownfield site that has sat unused since 1998. To help reintegrate it back into the neighborhood, the City of Pittsburgh recently renamed it Hazelwood Green.

It would also serve to revitalize Hazelwood, a former steelworking community with high rates of poverty and vacant homes.

“It isn’t going to be some gentrified zone that’s fenced off from the community,” says Fedder.

There are plans for a town square where CMU would host fairs and other public events. The facility would also provide workforce training to help equip unemployed or underemployed Hazelwood residents with valuable new job skills.

Fedder compares the vision for the site to the boom that happened in Lawrenceville years after CMU opened their National Robotics Engineering Center there in 1996.

“We’re first adopters of being there and people are going to want to build around us,” says Fedder, who foresees a place “full of restaurants and people rollerskating along [Monongahela River] and having fun” 10 to 12 years from now. “People are going to look back and say, ‘that was a dirt field.’ That’s important for Pittsburgh.”