When Temple officials first approved renovations at 1515 W. Market St., the building which houses the Center City Campus, they expected the job to be completed by now. But the discovery of various building conditions, which failed to meet today’s building codes, caused a delay.
Those issues, along with remnants of renovations from previous tenants, put completion of the project by the beginning of next semester in limbo, according to an interview with Senior Vice President for Construction, Facilities and Operations Jim Creedon.
The renovation costs and the rent payments led to discussion among administration and the Board of Trustees regarding possibly purchasing the building. The current lease goes through 2022.
Recently, the building’s owners announced their intent to sell the property, Creedon said.
“We talked it through, a couple of Trustees, the President, myself, and [chief financial officer] Ken Kaiser,” Creedon said. “We have a lot going on right now. To take on another $90 million for the downtown location [would be too much].
Creedon said the upcoming release of Visualize Temple, the master plan for the future of Temple’s campuses, combined with the costs of developing the new property at the site of William Penn High School on Broad and Master streets, factored into the decision not to purchase the property.
When the bookstore and cafe open, there will be outdoor seating at the corner of the building on the 15th Street and Plaza sides. The newly-constructed Dilworth Park next to City Hall is just across the street.
“We’ve got the whole master plan coming out within a week or so, which advocates a lot of investments,” Creedon said. “[Buying the TUCC building] would take away from something else.”
The original project called for outdoor signage enhancement, a lobby redesign and relocation of the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, which houses the Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. A second phase of the job included relocation of the Barnes & Noble bookstore to the ground floor and included the addition of a cafe. It was at the beginning of that phase the contractors found problems.
Barnes & Noble, which operates the bookstore and will eventually operate the cafe there as well, stands to increase its earnings with the new space.
“We started the construction over the summer, as we dug open what had previously been under the floor of [the] journalism lab, we found that the floors were uneven,” Creedon said. “As we took out the ceiling areas we found that some heating and ventilation … [and] the wiring areas hadn’t been appropriately covered.”
The discoveries meant increased pricing from the contractors to do the work. But since Temple does not own the building, administrators approached the landlord.
“It’s [the landlord’s] responsibility to provide the building to us,” Creedon said. The current owner of the building is Winthrop Realty Trust.
The landlord agreed to pay $100,000 toward rectifying to newly discovered problems.
The varying floor levels for the bookstore caused other issues with the design and layout of the space. The university considered multiple solutions, but all of them required more money.
“As we actually went through bidding on the cafe, those numbers … crept up as well,” Creedon said. “We went back to Barnes & Noble and said, ‘you have to put up a little bit more money.’”
Originally Barnes & Noble agreed to $400,000. With the amended plan it agreed to pay $550,000, an increase of 37.5 percent. The university receives a portion of the bookstore and cafe profits.
James Templeton, Temple’s Director of Architectural Services, said while the problems were not expected, they are not out of the ordinary.
“The building dates from the ‘50s, which isn’t incredibly old,” Templeton said. “But the building owner … didn’t have great documentation [with] the existing drawings.”
“We uncovered a bunch of things like penetrations through walls that just weren’t fire-stopped that need to be by code,” Templeton added. “That was the majority of the stuff.”
Templeton said he hopes the work will be completed early in the upcoming spring semester.
Bob Stewart can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @bstew74