Continuing the Specter legacy at Philadelphia University

With public and private remembrances of former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter well underway, attention is now turning to what will become of his legacy, the artifacts of which are slated to be housed in a historic East Falls building.

As reported by NewsWorks in March, the Roxboro House on W. School House Lane will become part of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy, a library for Specter’s public records.

The Specter Center “will preserve, organize and provide access to this important collection, and offer programming around relevant public policy and education topics to benefit the local university community, researchers, historians and the public,” according to university officials.

The approximately $4 million in funding necessary for renovations to the house are said to be split evenly between the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and private fundraising efforts, which are being led by Philadelphia University. A capital campaign totaling $5 million is underway, which will include $1 million to renovate the house, according to the university’s website.

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An additional $1 million is being sought to fund an endowment for research and educational programs.

To date, almost $3 million has been raised, including $1 million in private donations and $2 million from the RACP. After years of vacancy, Philadelphia University acquired the 19th-century site in 1998. Plans to ready the house for archival purposes began in earnest in 2010.

In 2011, Specter donated his extensive collection of historic papers, video and audio files, photos and memorabilia from his 50 years of political service to establish the center on the school’s East Falls campus.

A project in limbo 

In March, Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli, Jr. told NewsWorks that Philadelphia University had its $2 million already in hand. The RACP money, initially requested during former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, had yet to be received.

Spinelli said at the time that he hoped that the project did not stall, and suggested that the design firm tasked with reviewing the renovations would likely have to hold off on completing their task until the RACP money is secured.

However, officials from Governor Tom Corbett’s administration said that the release of RACP funding won’t occur until after work begins.

Jay Pagni, spokesman for the governor’s office of budget, confirmed on Monday that state funds – approximately $1.97 million – have not been released for the project, as the restoration is still in the design and fund-matching phase.

For the plan to move forward, Pagni said matching funds and “compliance” – such as permits and rights of way – must be secured by the local parties.

In a Tuesday afternoon email from Debbie Goldberg, the school’s director of media relations, she noted that the University has been moving forward with permits, design plans and necessary approvals from the Philadelphia Historic Commision and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. 

“These approvals were received earlier this month,” Goldberg said. 

However, monies will not be released from the state until the groundbreaking occurs, at which point the reimbursement funds can be made available for use on the project.

Remembering a ‘lifelong supporter of education’

In a statement, Spinelli expressed that the Philadelphia University community was saddened by the death of their friend and neighbor Sen. Arlen Specter.

“Sen. Specter was a lifelong supporter of education,” said Spinelli, “and we were honored by his decision to donate his historically important archives to Philadelphia University’s Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy, which will advance scholarship and research into public policy issues.”

Spinelli was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Specter’s archives – potentially 2,700 boxes worth of material – could include notes from an interview with Jack Ruby, the Dallas-based businessman who shot Lee Harvey Oswald following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. It will also feature records of his conversations with famous foreign leaders such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

A sense of urgency 

The project’s funding should get at least a small bump owing to request by the Specter family that donations be made to the Specter Center in lieu of flowers. Nevertheless, construction – estimated as needing a year to complete – will begin next month in order to open by the university’s target date of spring 2014.

And with the center’s first exhibition planned for the fall of 2013 – focusing on the Warren Commission report, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination – deadlines abound, ones that will hopefully be vindicated by an observation about the center made by Spinelli earlier this year:

“This isn’t about politics,” he said. “This is about great education.”

Editors’ note: Information about the estimated construction start date and status of permits, design plans and approvals was sent to NewsWorks after the story was published on Tuesday morning.  That information is now included in the article. 

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