Residents ask for more time to save township’s EPI Center
Several East Oreland residents showed up at the Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night to ask for more time to come up with a plan to save the township-owned EPI Center.
The former East Oreland School, which houses some parks and recreation programs, is in need of major maintenance work. A plan, estimated at $400,000, presented at the board’s June meeting for the site at Twining and Wischman roads, said to be in response to a survey of residents, was to raze the building and replace it with a multi-age playground, basketball court, gathering area with seating, mural wall, small pavilion, walking trail and open space.
About 30 residents at that meeting asked that one or both of the older sections of the building — built in 1909 and 1924 — be preserved, with only the structurally unsound part built in the 1940s demolished, and a park put around it. Several of those residents returned Tuesday to reiterate their request and report that their own survey showed more than 80 percent of the residents responding wanted the older sections preserved.
Garden Road resident Coleen Jones said that in a meeting between the township and neighbors in May regarding the site, the option to raze the building and put in a park “was presented as a direction … and it was misconstrued” that the residents were OK with a park in lieu of a structure. Renovating the structure and updating the park is what the residents want, she said.
Some residents designed a survey regarding the fate of the site, which was emailed to 202 East Oreland residents in June, and of 162 responses, 134, or 83 percent, “want to see a portion of the older stone building remain” for use as a community center, Jones said.
Michelle Brennan, of Garden Road, said the residents are looking for grants and asked that the township use money from the $30 million open space fund to repair and preserve the building.
Brennan said after the meeting that the EPI center was in disrepair because the township had not put any money into it since 2009. The building was a former polling place and the home of the Oreland Art Center, which moved out recently, likely in reaction to the center’s uncertain fate, she said.
Resident Brian Flynn, an engineer, noting the township had estimated renovation of the buildings would cost in excess of $2.5 million with operating costs at $30,000 a year, told the board he got together a team of engineers and architects and their assessment for architectural upgrades to the two older sections and demolition of the third was “under $1 million,” with operating costs at $10,000 a year.
“I think it’s a feasible plan, and I think it will boost the value of the neighborhood,” Flynn said.
The township has a preservation ordinance, reminded Weldy Avenue resident Ellen Schultz, adding, “I urge you to give us the time to make a plan to save” the building.
Board President Ira Tackel, in whose ward the EPI Center lies, said “one dilemma if the oldest sections of the building are retained and renovated … is the utilization of space, whether it could justify the cost, if borne by the township.”
Tackel said an individual had expressed some interest in buying the building and renovating it, and he asked the residents to consider whether that would “satisfy some of these needs.” The historical aspect would be preserved, but the community would not be able to use the building, he noted.
He also gave the residents a month to come up with their own plan, saying, “The October [board] meeting might be a good time to present a plan you come up with.”
Some residents said after the meeting that while privatization was an option, they would prefer to maintain it for the community.
“It wouldn’t be accessible for community use,” Brennan said, and with a private owner, “it could become anything in the future.”
“We want the township to put some money into it,” she said, “so the community can use it and not destroy a part of Upper Dublin history.”
“It’s the cornerstone of the community,” Jones added.
Matthew Bealer is sworn in as a Whitpain Township police officer by District Judge Robert Sobeck, while his wife, Jessica, holds the Bible and Whitpain police Chief Mark Smith watches.