Alpha Center bill remains on hold

The 70,000-square-foot center would offer day care, dental and behavioral health services, but it has been met with disapproval from some community residents.

Donna Richardson, president of the Norris Homes Resident Council, spoke in favor of the passage of the Alpha Center bill at a City Council meeting on Sept. 13. | LINDSAY BOWEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The bill that would authorize the construction of the Alpha Center, a 70,000-square-foot building proposed to be built on Diamond Street near 13th, was not voted on at the Sept. 13 City Council meeting.

The bill was to be voted on for final passage, which would change the zoning designations of the land where it would be built. The bill was also held at the council’s last meeting before summer recess on June 21 by City Council President Darrell Clarke. Before Clarke held the bill, it was also on the final passage calendar.

Led by the College of Education, the center would offer a day care facility for 130 children, a dental clinic staffed by faculty from the Kornberg School of Dentistry and behavioral health services for the North Philadelphia community.

In October 2017, the Board of Trustees approved the Alpha Center for pre-construction and design planning. The zoning bill was first introduced to City Council on Feb. 15 by Councilman At-Large Bill Greenlee on Clarke’s behalf, but for several months, the project has been met with disapproval from several community groups and residents. 

Clarke wants to ensure that residents are informed about the goals of the Alpha Center and are comfortable with the project before proceeding, City Council spokesperson Jane Roh wrote in an email to The Temple News.

“We remain confident that the Alpha Center will be a positive addition to the community,” Roh wrote. “But unfortunately, it risks falling victim to residents’ mistrust of the university – some of it earned over the highly unproductive stadium pursuit.”

College of Education Dean Gregory Anderson declined to comment on the status of the center “until there is more news to share,” he wrote in an email to The Temple News.

Multiple community residents in opposition, and some in favor, of the Alpha Center publicly testified to the council at the Sept. 13 meeting.

Gregory Bonaparte, a representative from Berean Presbyterian Church at Broad and Diamond streets, said the church supports the Alpha Center.

“[The center] can bring great resources to the church, as well as the community,” Bonaparte said.

The Stadium Stompers, a group of residents and students who oppose the proposed on-campus football stadium, gave testimonies at the meeting holding a sign that read “Vote no to Council Bill 180100. Temple University fails to educate kids.”

Jackie Wiggins, who lives on 20th Street near Diamond and is a member of the Stadium Stompers, said she is concerned about the early childhood learning center because it would be used to conduct research on “fragile, vulnerable” children.

“The reality is that Black children and Black families do not need to be test specimens or guinea pigs to advance Temple University’s College of Education goal to secure continuing research funding,” Wiggins said. “How cagey, how deceptive.”

Several residents opposed the center because of the university’s proposed on-campus stadium project, which has caused tension between the community and the university. In April, Anderson told The Temple News that the Alpha Center is separate from the stadium project. 

“The Alpha Center is perfectly aligned with both the history of the university and the social justice mission of the college,” Anderson said in April. “Whether the stadium happens or not has nothing to do with the fact that we should be meeting this critical need.”

Donna Richardson, president of the Norris Homes Resident Council and program administrator for the after school and summer camp of the Norris Homes, said the area has “more kids than there are programs.”

“I’m for the Alpha Center not just because it’s Temple, because I’ll fight Temple like anything else if it’s wrong,” Richardson said at the meeting. “But I have seen where our children that have been through the program…children went from low scoring to honor roll students.”

Jenn Bensche, who lives near 19th and Diamond streets, voiced her opposition to the center to council members at the meeting.

“I have watched the growth of Temple devastate my neighborhood,” Bensche said. “I have watched it push residents out. North Philadelphia is being destroyed by the growth of Temple.”

Some residents said they are concerned the facility will put smaller daycares and preschools in the area out of businesses.

“We have small centers that are struggling already, where the workers and the educators understand the culture of our children and they are used to us,” Bensche said. “They properly educate them.”

“This is all a ploy for [Temple] to make money, for them to bribe us into having a stadium in our neighborhood and then we have to accept the stadium in order to get them to clean up the trash after their own students,” Bensche added.

One of the goals of the Alpha Center should be to support surrounding pre-K centers, so that they are able to strengthen quality and outcomes, Roh wrote.

“The Alpha Center should in no way, shape, or form, replace or displace nearby existing pre-K operators that currently provide good care but struggle with resources,” she added. “We envision the Alpha Center providing supplement resources to allow area pre-Ks to enhance professional development and quality of care.”

In April, Anderson refuted the claims that the project would hurt existing day cares, adding that he sees the Alpha Center functioning complementary to existing local daycares.

“The idea that we would create a glutton, and therefore actually inhibit early childhood centers from bringing in children is completely against the research and the data that indicates there are not enough early childhood spots available for children in Philadelphia,” Anderson told The Temple News in April.

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