Progress made on senior center at former St. Bart’s

Approval given: The Wissinoming Civic Association endorsed a plan to build a seven-story, 173,000-square-foot senior center at Harbison Avenue and Jackson Street. SOURCE: BLACKNEY HAYES ARCHITECTS

A not-for-profit organization’s plan to build a senior center and apartment building on the site of the former St. Bartholomew School moved closer to reality last week as the Wissinoming Civic Association unanimously endorsed the project.

The WCA and members of the Frankford Neighborhood Advisory Committee’s zoning sub-committee learned details of the project in a joint meeting with officials from NewCourtland Senior Services on Feb. 23 at Grace City Church.

NewCourtland, a subsidiary of the Presbyterian Foundation for Philadelphia, plans to demolish the school building at Harbison Avenue and Jackson Street and construct a seven-story, 173,000-square-foot structure that will feature 144 residences, a 14,000-square-foot “LIFE” center for seniors and ground-level parking. The project does not involve the still-active St. Bartholomew Church or the former convent, which is now under separate private ownership.

NewCourtland’s purchase of the school property for an undisclosed price is contingent upon the project receiving approval from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. A zoning board hearing is scheduled for March 16.

R. Max Kent, NewCourtland’s associate vice president, told neighbors that the project would be completed in three phases over several years with the initial phase to include the senior center on the ground floor facing Harbison Avenue, and 43 residential units on the second through sixth floors. The seventh story would be just 560 square feet. There would also be a basement.

Eventually, new construction would occupy most of the property, spanning to Cottage Street in the rear. The second and third phases will also be seven stories. Senior center patrons would arrive and depart via a drop-off loop on Jackson Street, while residents would arrive and depart from a separate entrance on a new private driveway linking to Cottage and Jackson. Delivery trucks would also use the driveway.

The plans were modified from those presented by NewCourtland officials to the WCA in November. According to Kent, architects reduced the height of the proposed construction at the request of neighbors. Also, about six residential units were added.

Kent said that plans call for 28 off-street parking spaces, almost twice the minimum required by city code. While that might seem insufficient to accommodate the residents, as well as up to 30 employees on duty for peak hours, Kent noted that most residents likely will not own cars, while many employees use public transportation to commute to work. In an effort to access additional parking, NewCourtland hopes to reach an agreement with St. Bart’s to use the church’s parking lot on weekdays. Once complete, the property will employ about 85 people permanently in jobs ranging from healthcare to maintenance and transportation.

The senior center will serve residents of the lower and far Northeast. Eligibility is based on ZIP code. Seniors who move into the new residences may come from anywhere, but NewCourtland officials expect most will come from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Kent said that the intent of the design for the new building will be to reflect the character of the existing school building and church while fulfilling NewCourtland’s needs. The old school building was not suitable for conversion, he said.

In unrelated topics:

• WCA Vice President John Nolen reported that the former Wissinoming Boys Club clubhouse has been torn down. The building has been vacant in recent years and been a target of vandals and trespassers. Last year, a developer began demolishing the clubhouse without a permit as part of a plan to build new homes on the site, but that demolition ceased after witnesses reported the work. The remaining structure further deteriorated in the elements over the ensuing months. Neighbors considered it a public safety hazard. City inspectors cited the owners repeatedly for code violations, Nolen said.

• The WCA will organize its second annual community clean-up in conjunction with the official citywide cleanup on April 9. Tentatively, volunteers will work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be asked to start on their own blocks, then to gather at an appointed location for a large-scale group effort. To request a specific cleanup location, contact the civic group through the Wissinoming Civic Association page on Facebook.

• On March 27, the WCA will assist St. Bart’s in the parish’s annual Easter Egg Hunt. The civic group will supply candy, refreshments and maybe snacks, President John Barnes said. The hunt will begin after the 11 a.m. Mass. Although the WCA is a secular organization, the group has an ongoing partnership with St. Bart’s on various community activities, such as the annual multi-faith Holiday Tree Lighting. ••