Alpha Center project ‘continued’ due to concerns

Temple administrators presented their plans to city officials, but no decision was made due to community disapproval.

The university hopes to gain city approvals for the 70,000-square-foot Alpha Center. The project would be built on Diamond Street near 13th. | VIA CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

After differing reviews from registered community organizations, plans for Temple’s proposed Alpha Center were presented in front of the Civic Design Review on April 3 and the City Council Rules Committee on April 9.

The plans for the Alpha Center — a 70,000-square-foot facility proposed to be built on Diamond Street near 13th on a university-owned vacant lot — were not ruled on by the Civic Design Review and City Council Rules committees at their April meetings, city officials confirmed.

During the April 3 Civic Design Review meeting, city officials said the matter was “continued,” meaning the university was instructed to continue developing the plan for the center, and appear again in front of the board for further evaluation.

Similarly, at the April 9 City Council Rules Committee hearing, the bill was placed back in committee in the hopes that discussion on the matter can continue between the university and the community.

The center will house a day care facility for 130 children, where College of Education students will gain experience in early childhood development, and also have a dental clinic and counseling services for the North Philadelphia community. Children of university employees will also be able to take advantage of the center’s services.

To operate the facility Temple would partner with Montgomery Early Learning Centers, a childcare provider that has partnered with area school districts like the School District of Philadelphia and Lower Merion School District.

Temple is also seeking an amendment from city council to add space for the Alpha Center in its Master Plan for the project.

Registered community organizations, which provide input on construction projects whenever developers have to present plans to the City Planning Commission or seek changes to current zoning laws, have differing views on the center.

The Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation RCO disapproved of the Alpha Center. Residents said they believe the center is a bargaining piece for residents to embrace Temple’s proposed on-campus football stadium. Residents also argued that by adding more services, it could hurt independent, existing services in the North Philadelphia community.

UEDC determined it would not support the project last month.

“Everybody who was here from the neighborhood and from the community were not in favor of it,” said Yumy Odom, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation RCO chair.

“UEDC RCO participants were also concerned about the competition for day-care centers in the neighborhood, owned and operated by local businesses,” the UEDC said in its March 20 letter to City Council, citing the findings of their meeting.

But College of Education Dean Gregory Anderson said this claim about hurting local day cares is not valid, and sees the Alpha Center functioning complementary to existing facilities.

“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 said.

“It’s unfortunate that an interpretation of us undermining the existing early childhood centers has emerged as one of the themes in the letter,” he added.

The March 20 letter from UEDC also expressed the community’s concern that the facility would house drug rehabilitation programs. Anderson said the university currently has no plans to use the building for that purpose.

Community residents have grown resistant to new developments by the university following the announcement of an impending proposal to the City Planning Commission for a 35,000-seat, on-campus stadium. University officials have said they plan to have all needed approvals for a stadium by June.

Many residents at the April 3 and April 9 presentations at City Hall said they want to block the Alpha Center because of the proposed stadium. Anderson has been trying to distinguish the two projects.

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

The center will provide the opportunity for early childhood teaching internships for education students, while also meeting the necessary childhood, dental and medical needs of the community, Anderson said.

Community residents also provided input about the Alpha Center during a Temple Area Property Association RCO meeting. In its March 30 letter to City Council, Nicholas Pizzola, the RCO’s vice president, said the organization will support the project.

“These services will add to the well-being of the community, and we believe they will supplement, not compete, with the services provided by local day care centers,” Pizzola wrote in the letter. “Due to the benefits…that the Alpha Center will provide to the community, the TAPA RCO, supports the project.”

Blondell Reynolds Brown, a city councilwoman at-large who heard Temple administrators and community residents at the April 9 meeting, said she hopes a partnership can grow from this debate.

“If there is sincere authenticity on behalf of all partners, then there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Reynolds Brown told The Temple News. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but there has to be a real level of commitment and a building of trust…which quite frankly does not exist now.”

The university will reappear to propose its alterations to the project, but does not have an estimated time for completion if the project is approved.

“I understand the historical tension, between the university and the community, but a lot of times when community members talk about that tension they don’t recognize that we have to start somewhere to improve it,” Anderson said. “We have to hit the reset button, we have to improve our historical relationship.”

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