Pittsburgh-Area Groups Finalize Merger, Preserve River-Focused
22 January 2016
By Natasha Lindstrom
The 90-foot floating science lab known for using Pittsburgh's
rivers as its teaching platform will be back in action this fall,
thanks to a nonprofit merger 18 months in the making.
After nearly folding in June 2014, the North Side-based nonprofit
RiverQuest will become part of Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., a
Homestead-based nonprofit that aims to preserve Western
Pennsylvania's natural, historical and recreational resources. The
two boards on Friday announced the final approval of the business
plan detailing the merger, which officials say will preserve
RiverQuest's educational programs while expanding the reach and
scope of Rivers of Steel through paid tours.
The two entities join an increasing number of nonprofits
contemplating mergers and other forms of strategic partnerships.
In 2015, twice as many nonprofits — or about a dozen a month —
approached The Forbes Funds, a nonprofit consulting arm of The
Pittsburgh Foundation, with interest in exploring mergers than in
Though RiverQuest as an entity will be dissolved, the merger will
further its two-decade “mission of teaching the importance of our
rivers and the unique ecology and environment of our waterways,”
said RiverQuest President Jim Roddey. Since its inception in 1995,
RiverQuest has hosted field trips for more than 100,000 children
from 256 schools in 13 counties. Lessons ranged from collecting
water and mud samples and analyzing the contents under microscopes
to learning about water conservation and protection amid the
natural gas drilling boom.
RiverQuest's financial woes coincided with school districts'
tightening budgets. It finished the fiscal year ending June 2014
with a $220,000 deficit — despite slashing expenses from $2.1
million in 2013 to $1.28 million, tax records show.
Rivers of Steel spends $1.26 million annually and finished the
year ending December 2013 with a $465,000 surplus and $5.1 million
in net assets.
The state must approve the legality of the Rivers of Steel merger,
which involves usurping all of RiverQuest's assets — namely, its
boat last valued at about $2.5 million. RiverQuest will go out of
business debt-free, Roddey said. Its 12 full-time employees will
receive severance packages and can apply for jobs at Rivers of
The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and an anonymous
foundation put $30,000 toward the business plan, and Rivers of
Steel is seeking other funding to ease the transition. Officials
will pay close attention to the financial state of the merged
organization to ensure the move doesn't “ultimately end up
bringing down two operations,” said August Carlino, president and
CEO of Rivers of Steel.
“The transition is going to need a considerable amount of money
and support for us to pull this thing off,” Carlino said. “We
know, and the foundations know, that we've got to be very
aggressive in how we use this boat, not only for educational
programs that we want to start back up again but for other uses.
We've got a lot of work to do.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at
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