Two years ago, community leaders and residents successfully fought a plan to knock down historic Trinity Church Oxford’s Parish House and replace it with a convenience store and gas station.
Now, it looks like the building, which has been vacant for several years, will find a new — though not entirely unfamiliar — use, and it will be joined by what officials have said will be a state-of-the-art Police Athletic League facility.
State Rep. Jared Solomon, state Sen. Christine Tartaglione and others gathered at Trinity Church Oxford on Friday to announce that PAL will be coming back to the property at 6901 Rising Sun Ave. (near Longshore Avenue).
Gibbons PAL opened at the site in 1969 and had been the busiest center in the city before PAL was kicked out about four years ago to make way for a Royal Farms store.
Tartaglione said she has secured $1 million in state money to build a new PAL gym next to the Parish House, but more money will be needed. Tartaglione said the goal is to match the state money through other funding sources.
“We will get it,” she said. “I promise you, we will get that money somewhere in order to be able to do this.”
Tartaglione said she hopes to break ground on the PAL project sometime next year. Officials presented a preliminary rendering during Friday’s news conference.
“We need places for our kids to be able to go,” Tartaglione said. “It’s not safe out here anymore. This PAL center is going to be an integral part of the community, and everyone is going to be able to use it.”
In addition, Kinder Academy, a highly rated preschool and education network, will be renovating the Parish House. Kinder Academy executive director Leslie Spina said they hope to move into the building next spring and are planning to offer about 150 preschool slots.
“We are in the process of getting permission from the city to start swinging hammers,” Spina said.
Before the Royal Farms deal, Oxford Child Care Center had been one of the church’s tenants.
Spina said Kinder Academy has received a $385,000 grant from the Reinvestment Fund for the rehabilitation project, which she said should cost a little under $2 million. There are also plans to clean up the outdoor space on the block and plant a garden.
Kinder Academy, which formed 25 years ago, operates five locations in the Northeast.
“We know that this investment will change the lives of children and families in this community,” Spina said.
Trinity Church Oxford had signed an agreement with Royal Farms, but the deal fell apart after the Parish House was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2017 at the urging of Solomon, neighbors and preservation advocates.
The building, built in 1928, includes an auditorium, gym, office and two classrooms. It fronts Rising Sun Avenue, while the church, which dates to 1711 and is the second oldest in the city, sits near Oxford Avenue.
As previously reported by the Northeast Times, the church pursued a commercial tenant to raise money for the parish, which has struggled financially and was in danger of closing.
“We are so pleased with this outcome and these results,” said the Rev. Kirk Berlenbach, of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. “We are really, really excited about what this future holds.”
Solomon said Friday’s announcement was the culmination of more than two years of work to preserve and reactivate the site.
Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, said he always admired Trinity Church Oxford and the Parish House growing up in Burholme.
“We were really faced with failure here on so many levels,” he said. “We had already lost the busiest PAL center in the city. We were faced with losing this historic building right behind me. We were even faced with losing this historic 320-year-old Episcopal parish.”
“It looked pretty dire there for a little while,” Steinke added.
Others in attendance at the news conference included Capt. Jarreau Thomas, commanding officer in charge of PAL; Lawncrest Civic Association President Bill Dolbow; Democratic Ward Leader Janice Sulman; 2nd Police District Capt. Matthew Deacon; car dealer Gary Barbera; and nearby resident Heather Miller. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.