Waldorf School’s move to historic Germantown church property gets zoning-board support

Plans to move the Waldorf School of Philadelphia to a long-empty historic Germantown church property are moving ahead with support from local groups and an OK from the zoning board.

It would mean salvation for the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at Wayne Avenue and Harvey streets, and bring activity to a significant two-acre property which has stood vacant since 2005. The Gothic stone church, chapel and parish building were designed and built by Furness and Hewitt between 1873 and 1883.

Years of discussion

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The school has been in talks with the Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia about the property for a few years, and initially tried to buy and restore it, said Scott Seibert, a member of the Waldorf School’s board.

When they couldn’t secure the right financing, they approached developer Ken Weinstein, whose Philly Office Retail will buy the property and lease it back to the school.

Seibert appeared at Wednesday’s zoning hearing with attorney Joseph Beller to present the application for a special-use exception needed to place the school at the site, which is zoned for residential uses. The four buildings on the site (including a house) will undergo extensive renovations, including adding floors inside the soaring church sanctuary.

“We are planning no changes to the exterior of this beautiful and historic site,” Beller said. “We will not be raising the roof or changing it in any way.”

Need for expansion

The 16-year-old school, Philadelphia’s only Waldorf campus, has been located in a building on the New Covenant campus on Germantown Avenue for much of that time. It was an arrangement that allowed them to grow incrementally, leasing additional space as the number of students and classes did, Seibert said.

Still, there was only so much room to grow, and the school now counts 115 students in the first through eighth grades, along with 60 in kindergarten and pre-K and 10 in a nursery program. In the new location, physical classroom sizes now at around 450 square feet will nearly double, allowing for some enrollment growth, he said.

Reader response

A previous NewsWorks story elicited some response from readers who wondered about the potential impact the school could have on traffic along Wayne Avenue as buses, parents and staff members enter and leave the site.

Seibert said the corner already has a pullover area for SEPTA buses, and the school would seek to create additional space for school buses to pull over for pickup and dropoff.

The school also sought, and received, an exception to parking requirements for the property. They’ll provide nine spaces for short-term parking within the campus, and many of the school’s 30 staff are expected to take public transit. However, the school believes there is adequate on-street parking nearby.

The school’s plan received support from Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, and several members of the West Central Germantown Neighbors civic group.

The school is currently out to bid on construction contracts, Seibert said.

They plan to invite current student families and some members of the public in to tour the site in May, with a groundbreaking to be held in the fall.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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