Germantown HS project hits snag

by Tom Beck
Posted 2/21/24

Redevelopment of long-shuttered Germantown High School is chugging right along. Or at least it was.

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Germantown HS project hits snag


Redevelopment of the long-shuttered Germantown High School, which is set to bring 238 total units to the heart of Germantown’s business corridor, is chugging right along. Or at least it was.

The project has hit a frustrating snag, said Anthony Fullard, a Germantown-based developer who’s working as a consultant for the project—one that seems likely to delay progress for at least five to six months.

It seems the water department has a big backlog, and won’t be able to come any time soon to connect the building’s sprinkler system to the city’s water supply.

“We’re at their mercy,” said Fullard, adding that the delay means the team will have to pause progress on the first 140 apartments. “You have people’s projects tied up for months and cost them thousands of dollars. Right now, that’s where we’re at.”

For its part, the Water Department says it advises a "10-12 week lead time" from the developers  submit your requests for connection installations, according to the department's spokesperson, Brian Rademaekers. 

According to Fullard, the development team led by Jack Azran and Eli Alon is ready to file for the building’s certificate of occupancy, which certifies that the building is safe to move into. Those 140 apartments are mostly finished and ready for people to start moving in. But they’re going to have to wait until the Water Department can turn on the sprinklers.

The actual time developers submitted the request for a sprinkler connection is disputed. Fullard said the high school’s developers completed their part of the process in October, which consisted of filling out some forms.  However, Rademaekers told the Local that the Germantown High School's developers actually submitted their request on Jan. 8.

"The request for connection installation was received by PWD on 1/8/2024," Rademakers said in an email. "A confirmation letter was issued that same day."

Once developers got approval, Fullard said,  “they come back and say it will take us about five to six months to get to your project...There’s no way a developer can handle that kind of delay.”

But Azran, Alon, and Fullard are stuck. They can’t hire plumbers to run sprinkler lines through the building until the city connects the system to the city’s water supply. And then, after those lines have been connected and completed, the city will have to come back out and do a final inspection before issuing the certificate of occupancy (CO).

That process could take seven to eight months. And it can’t start, Fullard said, until after the Water Department sends out a team to make the connection.

“Until the city does the initial street connect,” he said, “we can’t do anything.”

The Philadelphia Water Department did not return a request for comment before The Local’s print deadline.

In May, the development team held its first public meeting in four years at Center in the Park, where they first revealed interior renderings of what the new apartments will look like.

“The impact and repurposing of the Germantown High School is critical for the community,” Fullard said at the time. “A [vacant] building that size is a problem and a big problem.”

Residents were excited at the prospect of the 530,000-square-foot building being brought back into use 11 years after it was closed in 2013.

“Having a building that big, that’s huge,” Germantown resident Jayson Massey said at the time. “I think every unit helps a little.”

The project will also include about 180 parking spaces and a coffee shop.

When Azran and Alon acquired the property in 2017, they paid only $100,000—about six percent of its assessed value. Then, in early 2020, news that the developer planned to put a strip mall on the front lawn prompted neighborhood activists to get the building, including the lawn, added to the city’s Register of Historic Places.

However, the building’s historic nomination turned out to be a double-edged sword. It prevented the building from being torn down, but it also cut the community out of the development process—thanks to legislation approved in 2019 that gave zoning relief to developers of historic properties. The historic designation meant that developers Azran and Alon no longer needed a zoning variance to turn the school into apartments, so they no longer needed to work with the neighborhood RCO.

At the November meeting, 8th District Councilmember Cindy Bass called the development “more than just a piece of real estate.”

“This is something that is very important to people who are from this community,” she continued. “This is something that we all want to see happen. We really want to see this building back online.”

This article was updated to include a response from the Philadelphia Water Department.