Res­i­dents ask for more time to save town­ship’s EPI Cen­ter

The Ambler Gazette - - POLICEREPORTS - By Linda Finarelli

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.

Photo cour­tesy of Whit­pain Town­ship Po­lice Depart­ment

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.

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