Presenting land use plans for PhilaU, Drexel and Penn Charter

Officials from Philadelphia University, Drexel University and the William Penn Charter School presented the future land use plans of their respective institutions to East Falls residents at Monday night’s East Falls Community Council (EFCC) meeting.

The presentations were a part of the EFCC’s ongoing initiative to create a dialogue between these three institutions and area residents on the topic of site plans for potential changes to the schools’ campuses and the effect that these changes would have on surrounding neighborhoods.

This was the first meeting at which officials from all three schools were in attendance, however, the initiative formally began last week at a land use planning meeting held at Penn Charter. 

Philadelphia University was the only school with immediate plans for new construction which included a new academic building for its school of Design Engineering and Commerce. The university will break ground on the building in July, but the construction will worsen the school’s already considerable deficit of beds for students who wish to live on campus.

“We’re going to lose 6 townhouses—30 beds—with this construction,” said Geoffrey Cromarty, Executive Assistant to the President. “We need to address our housing issue. We currently have a 650 to 800 bed deficit for what the need is.”

Cromarty stated that this deficit would likely be offset, at least in part, by a lease the university acquired with the Falls Center at 3300 Henry Avenue.

“Come this summer, we’ll have 353 beds to move some students there,” said Cromarty. He noted, however, that, in the future, the university will still prefer to add on campus living space for students, and would likely look into constructing a new set of dorms.

“None of our residence halls have lounge space right now because the students want to live on campus and we want to meet their needs so we’ve got them living on top of each other,” said Cromarty. “Longer term, we’ll still need to add 600 beds.”

Sharon Sexton, the William Penn Charter School’s Director of Marketing Communications highlighted many of the same points presented at last week’s meeting at Penn Charter.

“It’s really not in the cards that new buildings will occur,” said Sexton, who explained that the school’s 105-acre campus currently lacks the space to begin new construction, but that one school building which was constructed in the 70s would likely undergo renovation.

“We’re not actively looking for land to build, but we would like to increase the green space we have,” said Sexton, adding that the schools current green space “only just meets our need.”

Drexel University’s Assistant Vice president for Health Sciences Campus Operations, John Mahony, said that Drexel’s College of Medicine, located on 14.1 acres at 2900 West Queen Lane, also had no additional building plans at this time, but that a new, university-wide master plan that would be implemented over the course of the next decade was in its infancy.

“Space is a huge problem for Drexel in general and the School of Medicine at Queen Lane,” said Mahony. “We’re just forming the committee now, though, so there are no issues to identify, yet.”

Residents who attended the meeting were not given the opportunity to directly ask questions of the school officials, as this was a preliminary meeting to introduce the land use plans to residents.

In the coming months, however, the EFCC will form three work groups, one per school, consisting of eight to 10 residents and school representatives to design a land use plan that will be sent to the Philadelphia Planning Commission for approval.

“I honestly don’t have any concerns,” said Tom Sauerman, President of the EFCC. “I really think that we will get a working group to work with each school. There will be troubles and gyrations that we’ll all have to go through but we’re going to end up with a document that we can send to a Planning Commission.”

Drexel University will hold its open community meeting on Mar. 22 at 7:00 p.m. on campus, and a land use tour on Mar. 26 at 2:00 p.m. at the same location.

Philadelphia University will hold a community meeting on campus at 7:00 p.m. on Apr. 12 and will hold its land use tour at 10:30 a.m. on Apr. 9th.

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