Nearly 50 community members in Germantown gathered for a meeting last week to further discuss the future of Germantown’s historic burial ground with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
On Thursday night, demolition experts from the Maryland based company Controlled Demolition Inc, representatives of Dale Corporation, and PHA project managers fielded questions about plans for demolition of the Queen Lane apartments along the 300 block of Queen Lane in Germantown.
The site has been at the center of controversy recently due to its ancestral significance in the neighborhood. The public-housing high rise and the adjacent playground were built on land that the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia says was purchased in 1755 as a burial ground for “all strangers, Negroes, and Mulattoes [who] die in any part of Germantown forever.”
Last week’s meeting was a chance for residents to further express those concerns, along with concerns about how the demolition might affect the residences surrounding the site, and find out details about the demolition process.
Jim Santoro, project coordinator for Controlled Demolitions Incorporated showed the group a video of numerous demolitions to show that few explosions are necessary for implosion.
“You don’t even explode the columns, you just have to make them weak enough,” he said adding that “then gravity takes over and the building falls.”
Santoro likened the vibrations caused by the fall of the 119 unit building to heavy truck traffic driving through the neighborhood.
He says that traditional methods of demolishing the building would create the same amount of dust over a longer time span but in the case of implosion the dust settles after 10 minutes. The contractors estimated that dust from the implosion will begin in a 150 feet radius of the building and depending on the wind direction will spread further.
Still, Yvonne Haskins, the attorney representing the Northwest Neighbors was cautious about the verbal agreements of insurance coverage for damage to homes during the implosion. She says residents shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit, if necessary.
“There should be some kind of agreement that obligates you to be strictly liable, if there’s proof of the damage, but so people don’t have to go through the legal process to make a claim,” she said.
Both PHA and CDI say they have liability insurance for damages and that there will be pre-demolition inspections of the houses directly across the street from the high-rise.
Jay Ferraro, director of operations at Dale Corp. said that the contractor will take photos of the houses directly across the street from the property and that it’s likely that residents in a two block radius will be requested to stay in their homes and move their vehicles on the day of the implosion. Only neighbors on the 300 block of Queen Lane will be suggested to evacuate.
“We don’t think anything is going to happen to your property, in fact we have a history of not having anything happening except perhaps a broken window,” he said.
Concerns about asbestos and rodent issues in the building raised by residents won’t be an issue, said the contractors.
“There will be nothing left inside that building at the time of demolition that will be harmful to anyone,” said Ferraro.
Requesting more details
Both Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass and 198th District State Representative Rosita Youngblood had met with community leaders prior to PHA’s change of plans and agreed that minority firm representation was important for the project and promised to be diligent.
Bass says she’s going to follow-up on the issue. “That’s critical, we have too many folks who are looking for work from this community who want to have an economic part of this project,” she said explaining that as many workers as possible should be local and that can build pride in the neighborhood.
Dale Corp says at least 30 percent of subcontractors working on the site will be from minority owned companies.
Bass, called the relationship between PHA and the community as “difficult” but that things have changed. “I think we’re past that point and all working together,” she said.
But Youngblood still isn’t satisfied with PHA’s cooperation. She says she’s been requesting the entire portfolio for the project including all funding sources, how the money will be spent, and exact details of the demolition process for review.
“Are you going to put together a bond to get this done, or will this be considered a public tax refund or what?” she asked during the meeting. The representative said she too wanted more information in writing. “I appreciate what you’re doing but this is all verbal, I need to see something in writing and concrete that I can review,” she added. Youngblood says she’s being intentional because there’s tax money involved and the community should have a say in how its spent.
Overall, community members seemed hopeful about the project outcome, a far cry from their outrage upon first hearing of the proposal nearly two months ago, but they’re taking everything in stride.
Wendell Dingle, of the 5200 block of Pulaski Avenue says for him, it’s all about the jobs, “What we’re really concerned about is employment when its time for the demolition,” he said. “I want to see it on paper, you can say one thing and something else will happen,” he said.
Mt. Moriah church member, Gloria Chrisswell attends services across the street from Wissahickon playground less than a few hundred feet from the demolition.
“I hope they are going to do what they say they are going to do, I’m happy they are addressing Potter’s field…I look forward to a really positive project, I just hope that it continues to remain positive,” she said. For her, its about educating the community about their past. “It’s an important part of history, who knows there may be some of my ancestors there,” she said.
PHA wants to have monthly meetings from now until the Queen Lane demolition on the second Thursday of every month. The next meeting will be held on Feb 9. In response to community demands for more information, PHA started a section on its website to answer frequently asked questions about the Queen Lane project.