Introducing CoLab18: A free community space for the North Side

The space offers wifi, laptops and tablets — free to North Side residents.

colab
mj slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

It’s a place for business owners to do employee training and have meetings with clients, a place to learn digital and financial skills, a place for students to work on projects or do homework.

Now open, CoLab18 is the city’s newest community space inside Nova Place in Allegheny Center — and the space, including wifi and laptops and tablets inside, is free for North Side residents and business owners, as well as for community partners to use, thanks to organizations that came together through a $9.3 million investment in One Northside’s initiatives.

Similar to a co-working space, the roughly 4,600 square foot space has a conference room, a digital lab, a kitchen area, a seating area and two multipurpose rooms, including one that can seat up to 100 people.

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The large multipurpose room that seats up to 100 people

mj slaby / the incline
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A conference room at CoLab18

mj slaby / the incline

It’s a place where residents can come for meetings or workforce training and other programming like digital literacy, said Amber Farr, director of One Northside, an initiative focused on the 18 neighborhoods that make up Pittsburgh’s North Side, and a Who’s Next honoree.

Riverside Center for Innovation, a nonprofit focused on entrepreneurs and small businesses, will lead the programming to focus on education, workforce development and entrepreneurship for underserved and low income residents of the North Side.

It’s about leveling the playing field and moving to close the gap between the “two Pittsburghs,” said Juan Garrett, executive director of Riverside.

Per a news release, more than 40 agencies have either committed to providing programs or are in the process of planning programming in the space. Topics include: a youth job fair, middle school mentorship, training for entrepreneurs in construction and financial literacy.

Shyvonne Hall, the operations manager for CoLab18, will be in the space managing the calendar, answering questions and pointing users to resources and organizations.

The space is all about what residents who live nearby want and need, Farr and Hall said. It’s North Side specific — down to the name and logo, which has 18 dots, the number of North Side neighborhoods.

Accessing community

To some residents who live nearby, Nova Place can “feel like a castle and the moat,” Farr said, adding that the building can be difficult to navigate and intimidating to enter. But it’s also become a hub for innovation and technology with Alloy 26, Innovation Works and projects by Comcast all close together.

So in the search for a North Side community center, it made sense to put the center in a space buzzing with innovation to increase access for residents, she said.

The idea for a community co-working space came from the One Northside Consensus where residents were asked — if money wasn’t an issue, what would be needed for a dignified life? The answers fell into five categories — education, employment, place, health and safety, Farr said. And the need for a community space also came up repeatedly.

Right now, residents can meet at libraries, but the hours are limited and residents can’t host an event at a library or lead workforce training in several sessions, Farr said. And the other spaces that are available have fees. Nova Place has “innovation huts” in the concourse with free wifi, but that doesn’t offer the resources or tools that CoLab can.

Plus, it’s a large space that can have multiple trainings or events at once, Garrett said, adding that CoLab18 will also use the concourse and outside areas at Nova Place.

Today’s open house was a chance for community leaders and local organizations to check out the space. Dave Onomastic, director of youth and media at Steel Town Entertainment Project, said the organization was looking for a space to do after school programming with students on the North Side. He said Steel Town hopes to launch a teen film crew for the North Side based at CoLab18. The location will make it easier for North Side students to get to the program after school and for them to tell stories about their own neighborhoods.

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CoLab's open house this morning

mj slaby / the incline

To create CoLab18, Buhl Foundation, the parent organization to One Northside, as well as Faros Properties, Comcast, Urban Innovation 21, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Innovation Works, and the Riverside Center for Innovation all provided resources and funding for five years.

Both Farr and Hall are excited to see the space fill with residents, especially young people. Students in eighth grade and up are able to use the space for group projects, senior projects or just regular homework, Farr said. Students will also be able to walk over from school and gain new skills, Hall said.

If you go

Priority to use CoLab18 goes to North Side residents and the space’s community partners. Visit CoLab18’s website to sign up to use the space and to see a schedule for programs and trainings. Follow CoLab18 on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Hours:

  • 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays
  • 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays