The Burk Mansion south of Main Campus once housed the Center for Social Policy and Community Development and Temple’s daycare, but now sits vacant with no plans in sight to utilize the building in the future.
Temple still pays for landscaping fees and has fixed a leaking roof, but Director of Maintenance and Engineering Mike Gentile said major renovations to the building would prove too costly for Temple to go forward with.
“On the whole, we don’t like vacant properties,” Gentile said. “We would love somebody to go in there and make something of it.”
It’s unclear how much money a total renovation of the property would cost or whether Temple is actively trying to sell the building. Gentile said that landscaping costs on the building vary year to year, but he was unable to give the actual cost of current maintenance on the three-story, 27-room building.
The mansion was built in 1909 for leather manufacturer Alfred E. Burk, and was acquired by Temple in 1971. A July 1993 fire caused by an air conditioner malfunction in the building produced smoke damage to one part of the mansion and injured four maintenance workers. The fire damage and a decrease in state appropriations caused the closing of the building in 1995. At the time, the building cost $300,000 per year to maintain.
While the building is in major need of repair and renovation, officials from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia said that Temple has been in contact with the group to discuss plans for the building.
“After the Preservation Alliance featured the building on our Endangered Properties List in December of 2010, officials from Temple University contacted us to discuss their long-term plans for the site,” said Ben Leech, director of advocacy for the Preservation Alliance.
Those plans include the renovation of the mansion itself, along with demolition of the rear outbuildings and adjacent property. But Leech said these plans were dependent on the university’s acquisition of the adjacent properties, which has proven difficult.
Additionally, due to the mansion’s historical significance, any final plans must be approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
John Gallery, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, told The Temple News last year that if the university isn’t going to use the building, it should sell the mansion to a buyer who will.
“If Temple really doesn’t have a way to [rehabilitate the building], then sell it and give someone else a chance to do something with it,” Gallery said at the time.
The only major project that has been proposed for the property was a $44 million construction project that would have made the property the new home of the “Honors College.” The plan, still listed on the facilities management website, calls for a complete renovation of the mansion and demolition of the adjoining addition and adjacent building.
The website states that it would have numerous uses including offices, an art gallery and a scholar library. Officials said in September 2011 that the plans were halted by a souring economy and that it would have had to encompass the mansion’s neighboring properties.
Director of the honors program Ruth Ost said she’s glad the mansion is still standing, but would have liked to use the available space in the building.
The honors program is housed in Tuttleman Learning Center.
While Ost said the mansion has potential to be utilized, she thinks it would cost a large amount of money to renovate.
“What it will be used for one day, I don’t know,” Ost added. “The mansion has spectacular promise, but I’m guessing it would cost a small fortune to make it habitable.”
Sarah Figorski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.