The developer of the long-shuttered Germantown High School campus is scheduled to appear at a Town Hall next week to discuss his plans.
Editor’s note: The following article was produced by Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy Local media partner Germantown Infohub.
The developer of the long-shuttered Germantown High School campus is scheduled to appear at a Town Hall hosted by Councilperson Cindy Bass next week to discuss his plans for the site.
In anticipation of that event, scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Center in the Park., a grassroots group of faith leaders known as Power Interfaith organized a community meeting at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) so that neighbors could discuss their hopes and expectations for that project.
The room was packed. Representatives from Polite Temple Baptist Church, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Germantown Friends Meeting, Unitarian Universalist Church of Mt. Airy, FUMCOG, Mishkan Shalom, Janes Memorial, and other faith organizations were some of the people that filled the engaged room at the meeting. It also included nearby neighbors, Germantown High School alums, and other concerned community members.
“We recognized in the community conversations we were having, especially in our congregations, that Germantown High School kept coming up,” said Reverend Matthew Arlyck, POWER’s Northwest Philly organizer.
Many people in the room expressed frustration about the lack of transparency from the developer, Jack Azran. Feelings of hopelessness also surfaced, as many folks brought up how Azran has the building “by right”, which means they do not need a variance to build and already have permits to start construction. They also are not obligated to communicate with the neighbors.
“There is still value in us organizing around this because this is not just about Germantown High School. There are other historic properties that are in the process of potentially being developed,” Arlyck continued.
“There’s tons of development going up around Germantown, and it’s pretty much unchecked. We’re in a place now where communities feel as if their neighborhood is changing, and they have no say over that, so part of being there (last Wednesday) is how can we move the needle on Germantown High School, but (also) how can we start organizing in a way that’s proactive, where going forward, no matter what the property is, we’re on the offense and not on the defense.”
The night started with a prayer from FUMCOG pastors Alisa Lasater Wailoo and Gabe Lopez. It continued with introducing the ground rules and agenda. Then, it went into a brief history of the Germantown High School buildings by POWER organizer Denise Rose, a member of the Polite Temple Baptist Church in Germantown.
Germantown High School was opened in 1914. The School Board closed the high school and the adjacent Fulton Elementary in 2013. Both buildings were sold to developer Jack Azran and his firm in 2017. Construction has begun on the buildings this past year.
The bulk of the last part of the meeting was POWER organizers breaking people up into different categories, defined by what issues people were interested in talking about.
Arlyck gave everyone a formula for developing a strategic question during a development meeting – starting with a concise and relatable statement and then a yes or no question. People talked about subjects such as affordable housing, the project’s specific timeline, parking arrangements, and various other significant concerns.
People from each group then shared their statements and questions. One example was, where would people moving into this future housing send their children to school? Where would they shop?
POWER Interfaith brings together multi-faith and multiracial congregations across Pennsylvania to organize on racial and economic justice issues. Their Northwest Philadelphia core group has been organizing around the development of Germantown High School for years.
POWER’s Northwest Philadelphia co-chair, Jayson Massey from Germantown Friends Meeting, said he felt optimistic about the meeting. “Some folks who were not as enthusiastic at first got to talk to people who were involved and engaged and had a good conversation, so I think they left more hopeful than when they came in,” Massey said.
Massey stressed the importance of getting ready for future meetings about development in the neighborhood and how gathering at FUMCOG was one way to do it.
“Hopefully, what we accomplished is we got people to think strategically and tactically about how to go into meetings like this,” Massey said. Massey noticed that at the redevelopment meeting about the Germantown YWCA, it felt like questions overlapped, and emotions may have blocked getting more productive answers that night.
“So really taking that step back to organize can help the community get more out of all of these projects,” said Massey.
Reverend Stacey Jones-Anderson of Janes Memorial Church, right next to the former Germantown High School and Servants of Christ UMC, led the evening’s final prayer, bringing everyone together with faith for a future in God and the community’s hands.
A registration link for the Germantown High School Redevelopment Town Hall can be found here.