by Brendan Sample

With work continuing on renovations to the historic Engine 37 firehouse, representatives from Cecil Baker + Partners attended the recent Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee to provide an update on their plans for the station.

In addition, the committee made recommendations for dealing with parking and trash issues at Jenks Academy and a formal proposal was made for a fence around the trash compactor in the Parking Lot 2 on East Evergreen Avenue.

Cecil Baker + Partners, the architectural firm heading up the renovation project, focused its update on changes to the plans, as it made updates based on comments from residents back in March. Perhaps the most significant change to the plans was the addition of a watchroom in between the main building and the new fire truck garage. The watchroom will receive calls from central dispatch and notify firefighters at Engine 37 of any new alerts.

It also will allow the firehouse to see anyone approaching the station, as it will be staffed 24/7. Some residents had concerns that the watchroom would be aesthetically out of place, but the firm established that the mockup it presented of the completed project wouldn’t necessarily reflect the exact look of the finished firehouse.

Other changes to the plan included the development of landscape behind the firehouse, adding spots for bicycles along the side of the building and removing the community program room. The architect’s representatives did confirm that there will still be space for public events such as voting.

Some concerns addressed at the meeting included the location of a flagpole, which will be located front and center outside of the firehouse, a lack of street trees outside of the building and the feasibility of completely recreating the front doors, which the firm looked into doing but determined that it was overshooting the width of the space. It had also considered recreating other elements of the original firehouse, but determined that this new design was ultimately the most economical.

Vince Krakauskas, of the Philadelphia Department of Public Property, was on hand to express the department’s satisfaction with the firm’s progress on the project so far. Firefighters from Engine 37 also attended to clarify some questions about how the renovations will affect their regular operations. In addition, Cecil Baker, head of the firm, was present to provide further insight into the project. He said that the symmetry of the original firehouse really stood out to him when his firm began the renovations and that it was something he wanted to preserve amidst all of the changes to the firehouse.

In regards to Jenks, a resident living near the school, brought some of the neighbors’ concerns about how Jenks was using its recently installed ramp area for parking and continuing to leave dumpsters on the sidewalk. In several meetings before the ramp was completed, the school district assured residents that the ramp would only be regularly used for delivery trucks and emergency vehicles, and that parking on the ramp would only occur in emergency situations, as the area is not formally zoned for that purpose. Residents around Jenks are arguing that the school has opened the ramp for parking on a number of non-emergency occasions. While LUPZ reaffirmed that it cannot enforce any laws or other regulations on the school, it did recommend that the neighbors get in touch with the Philadelphia non-emergency line (311), the Department of Licenses and Inspections and Councilwoman Cindy Bass while also pledging support in any other way it could.

Martha Sharkey, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, made a brief presentation to the LUPZ to formally propose a variance for the trash compactor fence on Parking Lot 2. This matter had already been brought up at several LUPZ meetings beforehand, and the committee determined that if there was no major opposition to the fence from the neighbors, it would support the variance. While some clarification was needed about why the fence was needed to block the compactor from view of the general public, there was no specific opposition, and so the motion passed for support.

The next LUPZ meeting is set for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com

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