“This is Germantown Heart & Soul” Winter Community Gatherings, beginning November 19th

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“This is Germantown Heart & Soul” Winter Community Gatherings

Ask Residents to Guide Neighborhood Development in Northwest Philadelphia
Through Creative Participatory Planning Process, beginning November 19th

_final_gtownheartsoul-04Germantown, Philadelphia, PA – This is Germantown Heart & Soul, a project of Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) and Just Act, will host a series of community gatherings throughout Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood this winter beginning on November 19, 2016. The Germantown community is invited to participate in a unique interactive group storytelling experience. Unlike traditional civic meetings and town halls, the events – called Story Circles – use theater as a planning tool and center on capturing the wishes, needs, and ideas of residents as they share personal stories of meaningful experiences in Germantown and what they view as essential for growth of the neighborhood’s vibrant but struggling shopping district. A calendar of events is included below, with additional dates to be announced.

Story Circles will be facilitated by a multigenerational “Storytelling Engagement Team” comprised of Germantown residents, with support from the Just Act Ensemble. The collected stories will guide Germantown United CDC’s future work and plans for successful, community-responsive business corridor revitalization and contribute to efforts underway to make the central business district a people-centered main street destination for the Germantown community and visitors from outside the immediate neighborhood.

“This is Germantown Heart & Soul aims to create a shared sense of belonging that ultimately improves local decision-making and strengthens social, cultural, and economic vibrancy,” said Emaleigh Doley, Commercial Corridor Manager at Germantown United CDC. “Germantown is one of the city’s largest neighborhoods, with a population of 44,000. It’s important to recognize that the immediate needs of residents living in the Chew and Belfield area of East Germantown might differ from those in West Germantown’s Penn-Knox section, for example. That doesn’t mean the Eastside and the Westside have nothing in common. We also all share the business district.”

A core goal of the project is to connect both the formal and informal networks contributing to community improvement efforts and operating at the micro level – from block captains to Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) and neighborhood civics with limited boundaries.

Scenes from the This is Heart & Soul pop-up story booth at the Friends of Vernon Park Spring Bazaar, October 8, 2016; Park(ing) Day Philadelphia installation, September 16, 2016; and Maple Village Story Gathering, October 18, 2016.

“These story sharing events build upon an interest and commitment in helping communities adapt and implement positive changes based upon the vision and experiences of all community members and create new opportunities for residents and community stakeholders to meet in-person,” said Lisa Jo Epstein, Executive Director of Just Act.

This is Germantown Heart & Soul made its public debut in the spring of 2016 through a series of successful pop-up story booths held along the business district at a variety of spaces, from the bustling intersection of Germantown and Chelten Avenues to the annual Juneteenth Celebration, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, organized by the Johnson House Historic Site. The Story Engagement Team was formed in the summer and fall of 2016 and has been meeting regularly to train for and plan the upcoming Story Circles events. The Germantown Life Enrichment Center, a community-oriented recreational and educational facility in the heart of Germantown at 5722 Greene Street, generously donated meeting space for the team and is one of several This is Germantown Heart & Soul sponsoring organizations.

Story Engagement Team training sessions. 


With the addition of the more intimate Story Circles series, This is Germantown Heart & Soul will:

  • Build, diversify, and strengthen resident engagement with and collective participation in civic process to increase impact and positively affect neighborhood-wide planning decisions;
  • Strengthen resident readiness for, and engagement in the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s “Philadelphia2035” District Planning process for the Upper Northwest, slated for 2017-2018;
  • Expand who participates in public processes related to real estate development and neighborhood revitalization by engaging isolated and diverse resident groups;
  • Cultivate and/or improve relationships, social community cohesion and stewardship of place.

The collected data will also become the highlight of “Community Cataloguing Data Jams” – events in January 2017 where participants will listen to transcripts of stories from their neighbors to collectively identify and catalogue shared visions for what the community values.

CALENDAR OF EVENTS

The current calendar of events is included below. Additional dates will be added. All Germantown residents and community stakeholders are invited. Events are open to the public. Food and refreshments will be provided, along with live music and good cheer. Attend one or attend them all. For an up-to-date program calendar visit facebook.com/thisisgermantownheartandsoul. Contact Germantown United CDC at 215-856-4303 or heartandsoul@germantownunitedcdc.org.

Saturday, November 19 from 4 – 6 p.m.
Location: Providence Baptist Church, 87 E. Haines Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144
Sponsoring Community Organization: Providence Baptist Church

Monday, December 5 from 7 – 9 p.m.
Location: Awbury Arboreteum, 1 Awbury Rd, Philadelphia, PA 19138
Sponsoring Community Organization: Awbury Arboretum Neighbors, Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club, and Awbury Arboreteum

Tuesday, December 13 from 7 – 9 p.m.
Location: Germantown Mennonite Church, 21 W Washington Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19144
Sponsoring Community Organization: Pastorius Community Garden, Men Who Care of Germantown, Germantown Mennonite Church, and Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust


About Germantown United Community Development Corporation

Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) is a community-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and facilitate the revitalization of the business district in the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven approach to economic development. Vibrant commercial corridors or “Main Streets” contribute to strong neighborhoods. They provide a place to work, shop, and meet your neighbors. Through our Targeted Corridor Management Program contract with the city’s Commerce Department, Germantown United CDC provides assistance to businesses, brings planning and resources to the corridor, oversees activities to make the corridor clean and safe, and works to attract new businesses to the area. We are actively working to bolster and reinforce the vibrancy of the business district to meet the needs of the surrounding community and attract visitors from outside the immediate neighborhood. Germantown United CDC is also exploring opportunities to strengthen and diversify the mix of commercial uses in the business district, the potential to reuse vacant or underutilized properties, business and job attraction strategies, and available sources of funding to support recommended revitalization strategies.

Website: http://germantownunitedcdc.org
Social: facebook.com/germantowncdc | twitter.com/germantowncdc | instagram.com/germantowncdc

About Just Act

Just Act is a distinctive hybrid of artistic and community engagement committed to social justice. Our Ensemble of artist-educators facilitate unique theatre-based programs with non-actors that activate and nurture meaningful dialogue, reflection, healing and action around complex, often divisive social issues. Just Act is committed to building and fortifying inclusive, restorative civic engagement through partnerships across sectors and differences. Informed by Theatre of the Oppressed and other art and activist strategies, our work is a creative catalyst for community activism and personal change. In all we undertake, Just Act renews and deepens the capacity of social change seekers and makers to stand up for justice on personal, inter-group and systemic levels with compassion and renewed courage. In these times of anxiety, bustle and disconnection, Just Act offers refreshing, participatory “refuel zones” to creatively pause and attend to tension and fractured relations – particularly around race, culture, and socio-economic disparities – to reweave connections and grow empathy, understanding and action plans.

Website: http://www.justact.org
Social:
facebook.com/justact.today | twitter.com/JustActToday


Media Contact:
Emaleigh Doley
Commercial Corridor Manager, Germantown United CDC
Office: 215-856-4303
Mobile: 610-331-3758
edoley@germantownunitedcdc.org

Lisa Jo Epstein
Executive Director, Just Act
Mobile: 215-290-9784
lisajo@justact.org 

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New 2016 Community Grant Program Application Deadlines, Germantown United CDC Announces 2015 “Fund for Germantown” Micro-grants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Germantown, Philadelphia, PA (March 31, 2016): In an effort to align grant funding for community improvement efforts with the warmer weather months for outdoor projects, Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is changing the grant application dates for the Fund for Germantown, the organization’s micro-grant program supporting community-driven beautification projects in Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. In 2016, the deadlines will be Friday, April 15, and Friday, September 30. Funding guidelines may be found on Germantown United’s website at www.germantownunitedcdc.org. To request an application, email info@germantownunitedcdc.org or call 215-856-4303.

_FUND_Logo-01Germantown United CDC distributes small grants ranging from $100 to $1000 to local organizations, civic associations, businesses, and individuals seeking to beautify the Germantown neighborhood. The grant program is part of GUCDC’s ongoing efforts to promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown’s business corridors through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven approach to economic development.

The focus of the Fund for Germantown is to support projects that will have an immediate physical impact on the neighborhood. The fund provides grants for physical improvements across Germantown including, but not limited to, landscaping, signage, painting, reclaiming empty lots, and waste removal.

Germantown United CDC is proud to announce all 2015 grantees

Since the Fund for Germantown launched, 19 micro-grants have been awarded, with funds supporting a wide range of projects from greening to murals, neighborhood bulletin boards, cleanups and other community-building activities.

In 2015, seven projects were funded in the July 2015 round, and two were funded for the December 31 round.

Winning project ideas from 2015 include:

  • Business owner Lynn Washington will install a ‘Little Free Library’ to the front of Books & Stuff, her bookstore located at 23 W Maplewood Mall.
  • Residents Clint Steib and Villia Lateef will lead their neighbors in a planting and beautification project on the 4500 and 4600 blocks of Greene Street aimed at traffic calming.
  • Artist and photographer Tieshka Smith will launch the Peaceful Places public signage project in Germantown’s storied Penn-Knox neighborhood, next to the Central Germantown business corridor
  • Fitler Academics Plus, a public elementary school in Germantown serving students in grades one through eight located at 140 W Seymour St (at Knox St) will paint ground murals and organized games in the school’s playground
  • West Central Germantown Neighbors civic association will enhance their community orchard and garden project at the Tulpehocken Train Station, a SEPTA Regional Rail station at 333 W Tulpehocken St (off Walnut Ln and Wayne Ave)
  • Support to sustain the ongoing streetscape beautification efforts of Men Who Care of Germantown around their headquarters at 180 East Tulpehocken St (at Morton St)
  • The Imperfect Gallery will install an interactive sidewalk mural outside of the gallery and community space at 5601 Greene St, adjacent to the Maplewood Mall pedestrian plaza and shopping corridor
  • Freedom Gardens, a project by Germantown resident Susan Guggenheim, will connect local gardeners who would like to share their crop free of charge with Germantown residents looking to improve their diets with home-grown produce; Freedom Gardens will be identified by lawn signs and online via Google Maps
  • Support to sustain Chew-Belfield Neighbors Club’s ongoing cleaning and beautification projects in East Germantown

The Fund for Germantown us supported through generous seed funding by local real estate developers Howard Treatman and Ken Weinstein. “We are excited to support these small projects that have a big impact”, says funder Ken Weinstein. “These kinds of initiatives are exactly what we had in mind when we envisioned the Fund for Germantown”, said Howard Treatman. “It’s been great to see how Germantown United has been able to empower the community and leverage grassroots efforts.”

About Germantown United CDC

Germantown United Community Development Corporation is a 501(c)3 organization that was created to promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown’s business corridors through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven approach to economic development. Founded in 2011, Germantown United CDC’s focus is to work with residents, businesses and community organizations to create an inspirational vision of Germantown’s business corridors and surrounding neighborhoods, create innovative case studies and sustainable business models to attract green-oriented developers, and recruit forward-thinking investors committed to fostering sustainable economic growth and development for all Germantown residents. Learn more at http://germantownunitedcdc.org.

Contact
Germantown United CDC
Andy Trackman, atrackman@germantownunitedcdc.org
Emaleigh Doley, edoley@germantownunitedcdc.org
Office: 215.856.4303 

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Germantown In the News: November + December 2015

newsboyGermantown is in the news! Germantown United CDC staff pick your must-reads of the month, with a focus on business, economic development, and neighborhood revitalization news.

Suggested reading

Favorite quotes

“The ultimate objective is to present a better Germantown.” – Joe Martin, owner of Acclaim Academy

Screen-Shot-2015-10-05-at-1.04.42-AM-577x324

Joe Martin discussing with fellow Germantown business owner. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Neighborhoods.

“On the bright fall morning I visited, Vernon Park was performing according to plan. A half-dozen preschoolers dashed around the playground, their parents and caregivers taking in the sunshine. A couple strolled the paths hand-in-hand while a medical assistant walked briskly to do an errand…” – Inga Saffron, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia-Inquirer-Inga-Saffron-2015.11.06 cropped

Read the full story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Painters and dancers are transforming our Germantown community in the most amazing way. Art is an equalizer. It levels the playing field.”  – Jim Hamilton, Rittenhouse Soundworks

rittenhouse-soundworks

Rittenhouse Soundworks, a brand new 74’ x 62’ performance facility with exposed brick walls and a cathedral-style wooden ceiling in Germantown. Photo by Jim Albert/Full Frame Fotography via Chestnut Hill Local.

“Center City is important to Philadelphia’s health and it always will be, but we cannot ignore the commercial corridors that extend beyond that if we want to have a strong, growing small-business community, a meaningful increase in employment for Philadelphians of color, reduced crime, and a more strong and diversified economy for the long term.” – Mayor-elect Jim Kenney

 

Germantown United CDC featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer today

Parks can be a powerful tool to rescue struggling commercial areas. Pulitzer prize-winning writer Inga Saffron, architecture critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, recently visited Germantown to tour the newly renovated Vernon Park, which fronts Germantown’s central business district. Read her take on the park’s comeback, neighborhood revitalization, and rising development in Germantown.

The article features Ruth Seeley, the president of the Friends of Vernon Park – the organization that courageously led the charge for the park renovations – alongside Germantown United CDC’s new Commercial Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley, who discussed the challenges impacting efforts to improve the nearby shopping district.

This is an exciting time for Germantown. If you are energized about the neighborhood’s potential, consider joining one of the many civic groups – like Friends of Vernon Park, your local Registered Community Organization (RCO), or GU’s own volunteer committee – and get involved in moving Germantown forward!

read the full story in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia-Inquirer-Inga-Saffron-2015.11.06

read the full story

Germantown In the News: October 2015

newsboyGermantown is in the news! Germantown United CDC staff pick your must-reads of the month.

Suggested reading:

tweet_@rw_briggs

Crews pour concrete at Queen Lane Apartments. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Crews pour concrete at Queen Lane Apartments. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Seven Grassroots Community Improvement Projects Awarded “Fund for Germantown” Micro-grants by Germantown United CDC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Germantown, Philadelphia, PA (October 1, 2015): Germantown United CDC is proud to announce the next round of grantees for the Fund for Germantown, the organization’s micro-grant program supporting community-driven beautification projects in Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood.

Since the program launched, 17 micro-grants have been awarded, with funds supporting a wide range of projects from greening to murals, neighborhood bulletin boards, cleanups and other community-building activities.

Through generous seed-funding by local real estate developers Howard Treatman and Ken Weinstein, Germantown United CDC distributes small grants ranging from $100 to $1000 to local organizations, civic associations, businesses, and individuals seeking to beautify the Germantown neighborhood. The grant program is part of Germantown United CDC’s ongoing efforts to promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown’s business corridors through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven approach to economic development.

The focus of the Fund for Germantown is to support projects that will have an immediate physical impact on the neighborhood. The fund provides grants for physical improvements across Germantown including, but not limited to, landscaping, signage, painting, reclaiming empty lots, and waste removal.

In October, the Germantown Artists Roundtable celebrated the installation of a new arts-focused community message board at the Chelten Avenue SEPTA station, located on Chelten Ave between Pulaski Ave and Morris St. The thematic board, created by the Artists Roundtable, is a Fund for Germantown project, supported by Germantown United CDC. Pictured: Emaleigh Doley, Commercial Corridor Manager, Germantown United CDC, and Paula Paul, Germantown Artists Roundtable.

In October, the Germantown Artists Roundtable celebrated the installation of a new arts-focused community message board at the Chelten Avenue SEPTA station, located on Chelten Ave between Pulaski Ave and Morris St. The thematic board, created by the Artists Roundtable, is a Fund for Germantown project, supported by Germantown United CDC. Pictured: Emaleigh Doley, Commercial Corridor Manager, Germantown United CDC, and Paula Paul, Germantown Artists Roundtable.

The latest Fund for Germantown winning projects ideas are:

  • Artist and photographer Tieshka Smith will launch the Peaceful Places public signage project in Germantown’s storied Penn-Knox neighborhood, next to the Central Germantown business corridor
  • Fitler Academics Plus, a public elementary school in Germantown serving students in grades one through eight located at 140 W Seymour St (at Knox St) will paint ground murals and organized games in the school’s playground
  • West Central Germantown Neighbors civic association will enhance their community orchard and garden project at the Tulpehocken Train Station, a SEPTA Regional Rail station at 333 W Tulpehocken St (off Walnut Ln and Wayne Ave)
  • Support to sustain the ongoing streetscape beautification efforts of Men Who Care of Germantown around their headquarters at 180 East Tulpehocken St (at Morton St)
  • The Imperfect Gallery will install an interactive sidewalk mural outside of the gallery and community space at 5601 Greene St, adjacent to the Maplewood Mall pedestrian plaza and shopping corridor
  • Freedom Gardens, a project by Germantown resident Susan Guggenheim, will connect local gardeners who would like to share their crop free of charge with Germantown residents looking to improve their diets with home-grown produce; Freedom Gardens will be identified by lawn signs and online via Google Maps
  • Support to sustain Chew-Belfield Neighbors Club’s ongoing cleaning and beautification projects in East Germantown

“We are excited to support these small projects that have a big impact”, says funder Ken Weinstein. “These kinds of initiatives are exactly what we had in mind when we envisioned the Fund for Germantown”, said Howard Treatman. “It’s been great to see how Germantown United has been able to empower the community and leverage grassroots efforts.”

This is the third round of giving for the Fund for Germantown, which launched in the summer of 2014 and features two grant cycles per calendar year. The deadline for the next Fund for Germantown grant cycle is December 31, 2015. Funding guidelines may be found on Germantown United’s website at www.germantownunitedcdc.org. To request an application, email info@germantownunitedcdc.org.

ABOUT

Germantown United Community Development Corporation is a 501(c)3 organization that was created to promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown’s business corridors through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven  approach to economic development. Founded in 2011, Germantown United CDC’s focus is to work with residents, businesses and community organizations to create an inspirational vision of Germantown’s business corridors and surrounding neighborhoods, create innovative case studies and sustainable business models to attract green-oriented developers, and recruit forward-thinking investors committed to fostering sustainable economic growth and development for all Germantown residents.

GUCDC highlighted in Philly.com’s The Next Mayor Project

Germantown United CDC is participating in Philly.com’s Street Level series, part of The Next Mayor project.

The series focuses on specific issues pertinent to a particular community as addressed by local leaders and asks how the next mayor of Philadelphia can help.

Our question is pretty simple – Why are there zero public trash cans for roughly a mile stretch on Germantown Ave, between Penn and Berkley streets, an area that houses numerous storefronts and is serviced by the SEPTA 23 bus route at every block?

Watch our video and check out GU’s profile on Philly.com – Street Level: Where are all the trash cans in Germantown?

In a few weeks, candidates Jim Kenney and Melissa Murray Bailey will tell us what they would do about it, as our next mayor. Stay tuned!

YWCA Update: Councilwoman Bass uses NTI Funds to Support the YWCA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Councilwoman Bass uses NTI Funds to Support the YWCA

As the Councilwoman for the 8th district it is my job to advocate for every neighborhood, keeping in mind the unique perspectives of residents while recognizing community treasures.

When I took office in 2012, the question of what to do about the YWCA loomed large, as this building is an integral part of the neighborhood’s history. And while we are still working towards a final answer, I am beyond pleased that we have endeavored to explore additional options. I am most impressed with the creativity of the ideas that have been presented thus far, and nothing less should be expected in and for Germantown.

While we await the Request for Proposals (“RFP”) to be issued by the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Authority (“PRA”) this Spring, I will continue to speak with local developers and discuss their bold and unique visions for Germantown. Some of the concepts suggested thus far include full market-rate condominiums and/or rental units, office space, retail options and recreation uses. These suggestions have been presented both individually and in various combinations, and I am excited about the possibilities ahead. We are seeking developers that have the capacity to move quickly, who have a plan to involve the community in the process, and who take into account the importance of environmental sustainability. The RFP will be an open and transparent process, with an emphasis on preservation.

But beyond what goes into the YWCA, we must address the building’s condition and the recent concerns brought forward at a community meeting around this topic back in January. As rumors began flying about the building’s condition, (i.e., instability), it was critical that we operated on the facts. Working with the Department of Licenses and Inspection, and private consultants including former L & I Commissioner Bennett Levin, we got those facts which I am pleased to report.

I am happy to announce the YWCA is not imminently dangerous, and I have committed $2.2 million of my Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (“NTI”) funds to rehab the property and make the building safe and stable. With additional funds from the PRA, totaling approximately $4 million, we are able to provide the resources to protect and weatherize the property to prevent the building from any further structural deterioration. We will also be able to provide the much needed ‘curb appeal’ to make the property more marketable, and aid in stabilizing the commercial corridor.

We have to be thoughtful and deliberate about development in Germantown-just as we have in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. Nothing less will be acceptable. With the NTI funds I am committing to this project, it will help make the site more attractive to developers while protecting a vital part of our City’s history. The building is currently in poor condition, but with our subsidy from NTI and the PRA, it will be saved and developed.

Gentrification’s ‘winds of change’ the focus of weekend forum in Germantown

For some Philadelphians, gentrification is a dirty word or — at the very least — an eyebrow raiser.

As they watch their namesake neighborhood creep towards becoming a “choice” spot for newcomers, the folks over at Germantown United CDC decided they want to help prepare residents for change.

Event specifics

On Saturday, GUCDC will host a free, all-day community forum on gentrification inside Mastery Charter’s Pickett Campus, 5700 Wayne Ave.

“The Big G” will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said board member Yvonne Haskins of gentrification. “It’s something that we need to talk about and figure out if there are ways to manage it.”

Preserving affordability and protecting homeowners and renters from potential bumps in real-estate prices will be a major focus of the forum.

The speakers

Weighing in on those topics and more will be Colvin W. Grannum (president and CEO of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation), Nora Lichtash, (executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project), Steve Mullin(president of Consult Solutions) and Betty Turner (co-founder of Germantown Community Connection).

In the morning, Alan Greenberger, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, will moderate a roundtable “Meet the Press” style discussion.

After lunch, participants will break into four groups that will each tackle a different topic connected to gentrification with an eye on possible solutions. Each workshop will be led by one of the four panelists.

Financial literacy, affordable housing and the impact of the city’s new Land Bankwill be among the subjects up for debate.

Participants will end the day by coming together to hear about each workshop’s discoveries.

“We feel the winds of change from the energy that people are showing in their attention to all of these various projects in the community,” said Haskins. “Sooner or later, Germantown is going to be a choice neighborhood. It’s going to be a neighborhood that people want to live in more and more.”

Courtesy of Newsworks

What’s next for Philadelphia’s Germantown High School?

What’s next for Philadelphia’s Germantown High School?

Germantown High School was built in 1914

GERMANTOWN HIGH SCHOOL WAS BUILT IN 1914 – JILL SAULL

RELATED IMAGES

After ninety-nine years of serving families throughout north and northwest Philadelphia, Germantown High School (GHS) closed its doors last June. One of 23 schools shuttered by a School Reform Commission vote, GHS and its neighbors have the same questions communities across the city now face as students relocate and buildings sit vacant. What next?

For some sites, answers are beginning to materialize. In February, news broke that Drexel University will purchase University City High School at 36th and Filbert Streets in partnership with Wexford Science & Technology L.L.C., with plans for a mixed-use commercial, residential and educational space.

And in Yorktown, the William Penn Development Coalition (WPDC) is gaining the financial, political and neighborhood momentum to re-open William Penn High School, which closed in 2010. WPDC wants a neighborhood school with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, meanwhile Temple University is closing in on the property with its own offer to the District.

In Germantown, emotions ran high as decades of graduates convened for the historic school’s last days. That pain still echoes among some of the neighborhood’s leaders, who complain that there was never adequate transparency from the School District, both in its school-closing selection process and the consideration of proposals for the empty sites.

Fortunately, those issues haven’t stopped concerned residents from looking toward to GHS’s next phase. Will this neighborhood nexus see new life as a vocational school? A mixed-used development? A community fitness and art space? And can the new incarnation simultaneously honor the assets of this tight-knit community while addressing some of its deep educational woes?

Over the last year, fifth-year students at Philadelphia University’s College of Architecture and the Built Environment have been working in their own studioand teaming up with Germantowners in a series of open charrettes for the “Re-Start Germantown” project. Their “eco-district” architecture and landscaping plans address social, environmental, economic and schooling issues, with ideas for a GHS campus featuring educational gardening centers and artist studios.

According to Germantown United Community Development Corporation(GUCDC) vice president Julia Stapleton Carroll, many of the students’ ideas, though developed independent of GUCDC discussions, were similar to those of the CDC. As a founder of the Germantown-based Principled Schools, a startup nonprofit that helps local schools with effective management and policy, Carroll says it’s “a personal interest of mine to see that our community has quality school options.”

She’s taken a leadership role in a GUCDC-facilitated GHS “planning group,” now working on a formal mission statement.

“GUCDC is interested in making sure that space is not vacant,” she says. “I think the community is very passionate about having an educational option for our kids in Germantown, as opposed to [them] having to go to Roxborough or West Oak Lane.”

Forty-five people make up the GUCDC planning group, which meets every three to four weeks at State Representative Stephen Kinsey’s district office on Germantown Avenue. These meetings are open the public (the next one is April 25) and include representatives from Germantown Community Connection, theGermantown Artists Roundtable, the Germantown High School Alumni Association (GHSAA), the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, among others. Carroll says the meetings also have the ear of politicians like 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass.

And, hopefully, the building’s owner: “We’ve informed the School District of every single meeting that we have,” adds Carroll.

So far, the GUCDC consortium has considered the GHS site as a possible home for the nearby Hill Freedman Middle School — it recently received District approval to expand to high school, and needs new space. But Hill Freedman wouldn’t fill up the large GHS building.

“That leaves the door open for us to have a high school there focused on career and technical training,” suggests Carroll, arguing that a campus share might be a natural fit given the school’s two entrances (one on Germantown Avenue and one on High Street). “It’s a win-win. We want to have space that would be available to the community as well — like a gym open to the community on weekends, [or] adult training or technical training in the evening.”

Technical training is a major theme for GHS. Several community leaders agree that with the right organization or corporation to adapt the school’s curriculum, GHS could become an occupational magnet in a city whose drop-out rate still hovers around 25 percent.

Vera Primus also supports occupational training. She graduated from GHS in 1971 and is the president of GHSAA, which has remained active since the school’s closing.

She touts the value of turning the school into a “vocational resource” as well as an educational one, pointing to a former partnership that brought PNC Bank into the building as part of an occupational business center.

According to Primus, GHSAA’s hopes for the building are simple: They want to preserve its history by keeping its name and it “must serve the children in the community,” with no admission tests required. The group also wants the new institution to be “a resource center for businesses to come in to help and support the children.”

On this topic, no name comes up more than Comcast, which was founded by GHS graduate Ralph Roberts.

“What if Comcast adopted Germantown High School [and] made it a cable technology trade school?” asks Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors(GPAR) president Allan Domb. Promoting such occupational partnerships for newly empty Philly schools is a major item on GPAR’s agenda. The organization is pursuing a meeting with School District superintendent William Hite.

Domb suggests that companies such as Comcast, Aramark or Urban Outfitterscould partner to reopen schools and remake them as vocational centers preparing graduates for good jobs in Philadelphia’s top sectors, including cable technology, food services, facilities management, retail, health care and financial services. He emphasizes that this would be an educational partnership, not a financial one — funding would still be needed to launch and operate the proposed schools.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just to educate, it’s to provide employment for those who are educated,” says Domb. “That’s been the missing link in our system.”

He predicts that by increasing the likelihood of a good salary upon graduation, a GHS reborn as a trade-school partnership with Comcast could reduce drop-out rates and draw students from across the region.

“Just think about how it could rejuvenate the whole neighborhood,” he adds.

“I’ve got a call into Ed Rendell right now,” says Carroll of pursuing the Comcast connection; Rendell spoke at a GUCDC fundraiser in the past. David Cohen, Rendell’s former chief of staff, is now the executive vice president at Comcast.

Paula Paul, an active Germantown community member who helps lead the Artists Roundtable and attends the GUCDC consortium meetings, offers measured support for the occupational focus.

“You don’t want only a vocational school,” she says. “You want a school that prepares kids for college if they want to go.”

“The decisions about what kind of occupation, what kind of training, would be pretty important,” she continues, emphasizing her preference for a technology-savvy arts curriculum that includes the visual, performing, musical and literary arts.

She imagines art education programs benefitting students during class and after school, as well as art classes open to “the whole community.” Germantown, long home to a powerful community of artists, has “many talented, experienced people who could easily be hired if there were jobs,” she says of the opportunity for under-employed locals who work in the creative fields.
“The hope would be that it’s a little unique,” she says of a “forward-looking” vocational school that would be different from any other program in the city.

Or, as Primus puts it, “Basically what we’re trying to do is keep the name alive and keep us together, and support our children.”

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