Frankford Friends expansion gets neighborhood civic association OK

Updated: 9/10/10 @ 3:56 p.m.

A $1.6 million expansion project that would remake the capacity of a fixture of Frankford was given approval Thursday night by the neighborhood’s civic group.

The Frankford Friends School, at the corner of Penn and Orthodox streets, would see a modern, single-floor, multi-use, 32-foot additional building constructed east of its historic 1833-era school house if the city’s zoning commission approves a change to the property’s zoning distinction.

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Seven present board members and former board member Tim Savage of the Frankford Civic Association,The eight board members of the Frankford Civic Association, the only ones of 20 present at the meeting who met the organization’s new voting requirements, supported unanimously the proposal presented by a representative of the Quaker school. Board Vice President Brian Wisniewski said they would prepare a ‘letter of non-opposition’ for the Zoning Board of Adjustment to show their support of the project.

1708 Unity St. alleged to be another ‘recovery home’

Perhaps because it seems not a Frankford Civic meeting can go without another nuisance property being described as a recovery home being discovered, 1708 Unity St. has been apparently outed as one.

Nearby neighbors of the property came to the meeting describing construction on the back of the property near Orchard Street, east of Frankford Avenue, without posted permits. One nearby resident said he has seen “eight or nine” men and women come in and out of the home “at all hours of the night.”

The resident said he spoke to someone who claimed to be the property’s owner — who said his name was Grasso. According to the city’s Board of Revision of Taxes website, that property is owned by Toledo Alvarez, though the site sometimes takes time to update.

(In the spring, the Frankford civic board moved to recognize votes on zoning only from members who attended four of the last six meetings and paid their $10 annual dues. No one present at last night’s meeting fit those standards, outside of the eight present board members.)

The school has less than half of the money raised, though they have a number of outstanding verbal pledges, said Joe Hohenstein, the clerk of the Frankford Friends School board committee and a 1979 graduate, who presented the project to those attending the meeting at the Aria Health-Frankford.

“For Philly being the Quaker City, we’re not dealing with much money,” Hohenstein said.

The addition would increase the school’s capacity from 125 to 165 students, spanning pre-kindergarten to eighth grade classes, he said. Currently, the oldest three grades are based at 1528 Gillingham St., a rowhouse-based education that the school’s expansion would replace.

The expansion would include classrooms, a meeting place and half a basketball court. The community would be welcomed in to use the space, according to Hohenstein’s presentation.

Though the funding hasn’t been finalized, State Rep. Tony Payton, who was in attendance, was thanked for lobbying for funding from the state capital fund.

“[Supporting this expansion] is an important issue because it gives people another quality education option,” Payton said. He also noted the school’s role in the neighborhood’s local economy and its historical value.

While the school has no intentions to pursue LEED certification, their plans do involve porous surfaces to reduce rainwater runoff. No changes will be made to the school’s primary, historic building — “aside from maybe a fresh coat of paint,” said the Frankford board’s zoning officer Pete Specos.

The school is facing increased competition from charter schools, in addition to other private schools, and  needs to keep up, Hohenstein, the school representative said. As many students from the 19124 zip code are attending as ever — more than when he was attending in the 1970s, Hohenstein said — in addition to more students from the Northern Liberties area.

“So this is serving people in our neighborhood,” the Frankford resident said.

Tuition, which ranges from less than $1,500 for kindergarten and up to $8,000 for eighth grade — almost half of other private schools, the representative said — would not be raised specifically to fund the project.

Below, watch Hohenstein’s presentation to the Frankford board.

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