Temple University recently unveiled their new proposal for a North Philly community engagement center, and it has some area residents more than a little skeptical.
The proposed 4-story, 95,000-square-foot development, dubbed, “The Alpha Center,” would sit at 1301 West Diamond Street—which is now a vacant lot—and feature a, “full service, interdisciplinary educational and community engagement center,” according to the project proposal. The project, which has been referred to as an early childhood development center will, “include multiple services that benefit children and their families from North Philadelphia,” the proposal said.
The project was discussed at a Civic Design Review (CDR) meeting this week, during which members of the design team discussed the layout of the building, which includes a playground area that’s raised from the the sidewalk and classes for adult education. It will also include a dental office and psychology and counseling services.
“We want to return life to this piece of the street,” Chris Kenney, Principle at Strada Architecture, the firm handling the development, said during the presentation.
That comment—and the potential effects of the development as a whole—angered many community members, who came out in droves to oppose the project during Tuesday’s meeting.
Many of the residents took issue with what they perceived as a lack of community input into the building’s design and placement, like Sheila Armstrong, a North Philly resident and member of the interfaith and activist organization, POWER.
“They say they’ve done a community engagement project but they haven’t,” she said.
Armstrong also opposed the height of the playground, which stands above the sidewalk, creating a wall that sits just over seven feet tall at its highest point.
“A gated community is not for us,” said Armstrong.
For North Philly resident Paula Peebles, who spoke Tuesday, the issue comes down in part, to a lack of trust. She accused the university of proposing a center to help the community, without any intention of doing so.
“This is a typical Temple bait and switch,” she said. Peebles went on to accuse the university of trying to distract residents from the proposed—and similarly controversial—football stadium, which residents have protested in recent months.
“They want to be able to say ‘oh we put up this for the community’ to justify them doing the stadium on the west side of Broad Street,” she said.
Dozie Ibeh, associate vice president of Temple’s Project Delivery Group, addressed some of the concerns Tuesday, saying that the university is open to having a discussion and to engaging with the community. He added that the wall, which is four and a half feet at its lowest point, is meant to be a safety precaution, not a method of shutting the community out. It’s merely meant to protect children in the playground from the street and sidewalk, he said.
The discussion ended Tuesday with the design team and the CDR planning to reconvene at a future meeting to discuss more details on the project.