Jacobs school demolition awaits civic review

Plans to demolish the Jacobs school building on the Politz Hebrew Academy property were postponed last week, according to Jack O’Hara, president of the Greater Bustleton Civic League, and Politz principal Besie Katz.

O’Hara said the schoolhouse, which dates to the mid 19th century, is a national historical site. The academy wants to raze the 9229 Old Bustleton Ave. building. The structure cannot be seen from the street.

The civic league president said the organization’s members, who don’t meet in July and August, want to review the project and that the academy last week agreed to delay the demolition until they can. The league’s next meeting is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the American Heritage Credit Union Community Room, Red Lion Road and Jamison Avenue.

Before the building was acquired by the academy in 1990, it was the Fayette Consolidated School. It was renamed the Jacobs School in 1915, O’Hara said.

The school comprises “an original 1855 wing designed by Samuel Sloan, joined to a later Colonial Revival building constructed in 1915,” according to a survey of the property by the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation. “While alterations obscure some of the original detailing, the Sloan wing consists of a two-story stone building sheathed in stucco.”

The portion of the building erected in 1915 will not be affected by the planned demolition, Thomas Witt, an attorney for the school, said in an e-mail to the Northeast Times on Tuesday.

The older part of the building that dates back to the 1800s is wood-frame, not masonry, has not been used for several years and the school is concerned about its safety, he said.

Adapting it for modern use “is thought to be prohibitively expensive,” he wrote.

The building is the only nationally historically certified building in the 19115 ZIP code, said Ben Leech, director of advocacy for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, a non-profit group that promotes appreciation and preservation of the region’s historic and cultural resources.

Leech said the building “isn’t much to look at and has been altered considerably since its construction,” but it’s the only surviving example of a group of about 20 similar schools designed by Sloan in the 19th century.

“Sloan’s plan formed the basis for the design of school interiors during the second half of the 19th century,” according to the Bureau for Historic Preservation.

Leech said the school has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, but the designation carries no legal weight, so it can’t be used to prevent demolition. And, he added, there is a valid demolition permit.

“The alliance has not taken a position yet,” Leech said, and simply is advising a group that is concerned. “I can’t say we would categorically oppose this. There’s a lot more information that we’d like.”

“We’d like to know: Is this really necessary?” Leech said.

“The school has no choice but to proceed,” Witt stated in his e-mail to the paper. “Otherwise, it will have a vacant, unusable building attached to its 1915 building. The voluntary pause in demolition was done to allow the Civic League to understand the proposed improvement of the campus. We are hopeful that our neighbors will share our vision of a safe campus for the education of our 350 students.”

O’Hara wants to know what neighborhood residents think about the plan. They can call the civic league’s hot line at 215–676–6890 or send an e-mail to gbcl19115@gbcleague.com.