$50,000 reward offered to help police make arrests in Chestnut Hill meetinghouse arson

The Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc. is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and felony convictions of those responsible or vandalism and arson at the construction site for a new Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill.

“We were concerned about what happened on that site and hope that it doesn’t continue,” said Mary Tebeau, the chapter’s president and CEO.

The project’s general contractor, E. Allen Reeves, Inc., is a longstanding member of ABC, which represents merit construction employees across the state. More than 15,000 members are part of the organization’s Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter.

“I’m pleased to see it,” said Rob Reeves, owner of E. Allen Reeves, of the reward.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Tebeau said signs advertising the reward will be posted in the vicinity of the building site this week. Those who might have information are directed to report it to police or contact ABC.

The backstory

According to police, the arson occurred sometime between 4 p.m. Dec. 19 and 6 a.m. Dec. 20 at 20 E. Mermaid Lane – site of the future worship space for the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting (CHFM).

A dozen locations at the site were targeted. Vandals sliced anchor bolts and cut into structural steel columns with acetylene torches. The cab of a subcontractor’s crane also sustained substantial fire damage.

Immediately following the incident, Reeves said he suspected the vandalism to be the work of disgruntled union workers. Police later announced that they shared that suspicion.

The damages are estimated to exceed $500,000. Police have not yet made any arrests.

The meetinghouse has garnered city-wide attention for its inclusion of a Skyspace light installation by world renowned artist James Turrell. The Skyspace, an aperture in the ceiling which opens to the sky using a retractable roof, will be the centerpiece of the eco-friendly building.

CHFM broke ground on the $6.2 million dollar project on May 15. The event was attended by many local luminaries, including U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah and City Councilmembers Bill Green and Cindy Bass.

“I am dismayed by any acts of vandalism and whoever committed this crime should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Bass, whose Eighth District includes Chestnut Hill, said in an email.

Citing an active police investigation into the incident, Bass declined to comment on the suspicion of union thuggery.

Neither Fattah nor Green responded to a NewsWorks request for comment.

A CHFM spokesperson said the meeting had been contacted by a union worker who expressed his sympathies regarding the incident.

‘Moving forward’

Despite the costly damages, the incident did not delay the construction more than a few days, said Reeves. Completion of the project is still anticipated for May 2013.

Repairs included “amputating the columns” with a clean cut made above the damage and removing the steel between the cut and base plate, said Reeves. New pieces were then fit in and welded according to engineering requirements. For the damaged anchor bolts, new holes were made and new bolts put in place.

Reeves said while the repairs were taking place, his crew was able to continue working in other sections of the site.

“We’re moving forward,” he said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal