Chew & Belfield Neighbors Club talks neighborhood clean-up, school expansion

Gathering at the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library for their first meeting of the new year on Wednesday night, members of the Chew & Belfield Neighbors Club talked about winning $2,000 from The Northwest Fund to support their weekly clean-up days, job fairs and free educational tutoring at the library.

On Martin Luther King Day, the group — along with 160 volunteers — cleaned 16 locations in the neighborhood. Club founder Chester Williams said, “We pulled out mattresses, went down alleys, you name it we did it.”

The club’s plans for 2012 are threefold: Continue clean-up days into the spring, possibly partner with correctional institutions for inmates from the Northwest to contribute to neighborhood projects and offer free education programs and job fairs for residents.

Rena Graves, block captain of the 5800 block of Chew Ave., said she got involved because of the group’s vision for the neighborhood.

“I’m just trying to get people to come out and get more interested in the block where they live,” she said of a task that is not always easy. “I was away for a week and when I came back I saw trash buckets still outside. It’s annoying.”

School expansion a topic of interest

The group also consulted with local developers at the meeting.

Representatives of the Green Tree School, a private Germantown non-profit serving children with special needs since 1957, presented renderings of the new-school expansion plans. It is set to open next fall. The current school is run out of multiple buildings in an effort to keep up with a growing student population of nearly 100 children.

The new school, a $7.5 million project featuring 56,000 square feet at 1196 E. Washington Lane, will feature a culinary arts program with a commercial kitchen, basketball court, library, and, among other amenities, art and music rooms.

The school’s board vice president William Smith said they expect a quarter of construction hires to be from companies owned by women and minorities, and that an emphasis on hires from within surrounding zip codes is important.

“We want to blend in with the community,” said Robin Eglin, of Omnivest Properties Management, who formed a “liaison committee” comprised of members from a few local organizations.

Williams noted that community concerns ranged from the size of the new building to traffic and parking issues.

“The building is on a side angle, so when they are unloading buses, it will be separate instead of congesting traffic like the old school used to do,” he said.

A hearing about a re-zoning certificate for the new building will be held Feb. 15; the Chew & Belfield Neighbors Group will write a letter of support.

“That will bring up the whole neighborhood, it will do so much,” Williams added. “We’re just hoping that Wissahickon Charter [School] will step up to the plate, too.”

Is Wissahickon Charter next?

An expansion of the 10-year-old charter school is being considered for the Mt. Airy Transit Village at the intersection of Chew and Washington Lane. The school currently operates in southwest Germantown.

Williams said the neighbors club wants to work with developers by connecting them with community members.

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