After community outcry, city officials announced a date change for the highly anticipated demolition of a public-housing high-rise in Germantown.
The Queen Lane Apartments tower, a vacant 16-story building in a residential neighborhood of southwest Germantown, is now scheduled to be imploded on Saturday, Sept. 13, one day earlier than previously planned.
At a Thursday night public meeting inside Mt. Moriah Baptist Church — located just steps away from the doomed building — Samantha Phillips, the city’s director of emergency management, said that Mayor Michael Nutter approved a request to move the building’s implosion forward by one day.
After receiving feedback from the community about the original implosion date, administration members consulted with other city officials to ensure that the scheduling adjustment was feasible despite a long-standing preference for Sunday demolitions.
“We spent time going to risk management, the police department, and other partner agencies to make sure we can do this just as safely on Saturday, and we absolutely can,” Phillips said. “There might be a few more resources out there, but we’re going to get it done.”
Following this well-received announcement, project officials told residents that the surrounding blocks would be divided into two zones.
The first, which encompasses residences immediately adjacent to the site, will be considered an evacuation zone.
Residences within two blocks of the site are considered to be in the “dust zone,” and could be enveloped by the resultant dust cloud, depending upon the direction of the wind.
Police will be shutting off access to streets within this boundary during the implosion, which is scheduled to occur at 7:15 a.m., rain or shine.
Evacuation-zone residents must leave their houses by 4:30 a.m., but the city will provide a “comfort station” during the blast for residents and their pets at Cook-Wissahickon School in Roxborough. Transportation will be provided.
Parking will be prohibited. Cars left on the street will be towed to a yet-determined location.
Street-cleaning operations will commence immediately after the implosion. Project officials expect that residences in the evacuation zone will be able to return home by noon Saturday.
In coming weeks, outreach efforts will take place on several days to inform community members about the demolition and its impact on their neighborhood.
Two additional public meetings are scheduled for Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 at Mt. Moriah.
Something in the air
Despite these precautions, residents at the meeting had one four-letter word on their mind: Dust.
Jim Santoro, project coordinator with Controlled Demolitions Inc., said that heavy, particulate dust will be confined to the immediate vicinity of the high-rise.
While airborne particles of finer dust triggered by the blast can travel up to 125 miles, the ground cloud of fine dust is not expected to stray beyond the boundaries described above.
While the dust could be an irritant, especially to those with asthma or other respiratory ailments, Santoro emphasized that the dust itself was not hazardous. He noted that Philadelphia is the only city that requires a so-called “dust zone.”
To combat the dust, Santoro recommended that neighbors close all windows, cover air-conditioning units, and seal any gaps in entranceways. He will personally inspect houses in the week prior to the demolition to assess their wherewithal.
On demolition day, officials will monitor the site to take air-quality samples and record vibrations with a seismograph. Santoro said that the vibrations will be minimal, and will not jeopardize any cracks in nearby masonry.
Residents were also concerned about the possibility of asbestos in the dust.
Ed Burns, a demolition contractor involved with the project, said that abatement efforts are already under way and will be concluded by the date of the implosion.
'A long time coming'
Lisa Hopkins, president of the Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, expressed concern last Thursday about the impact of heavy trucks removing debris on already deteriorating local roadways.
Project officials could not provide a definitive answer but agreed to coordinate with community representatives to minimize impact.
Hopkins urged Philadelphia Housing Authority officials to utilize care in the selection of new residents to occupy the 55 new rental units that will replace the towers.
“We have problems, serious violent problems, in this area,” she said. “We want to make sure that when they tear down that old building, those problems are not going to resurface.”
While the legacy of the former Queen Lane Apartments will be felt for years, officials are optimistic about the future of the neighborhood.
“This is a long process, and it is progress,” Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said. “It didn’t always feel like progress. I think we’re going to find out that the final result will be attractive, and it will be good for the neighborhood and an asset to the community.”
Michael Johns, executive vice president for the PHA, acknowledged the extended dialogue but thanked the community for their contributions to the project.
“It’s been a long time coming to get to the point where we’re able to demolish this particular public housing site,” Johns said.
The back story
The demolition is nearly three years in the making.
That's when PHA first publicly presented its plans to replace the tower with the $22 million project.
Not long afterwards, though, an 18th century potter's field was discovered beneath the site.
Neighbors wanted to preserve and honor the colonial burial ground created for "all strangers, Negroes, and mulattoes [who die] in any part of Germantown forever."
PHA ultimately agreed not to build atop the cemetery, a decision which added a complex layer to a historical-review process that had to be completed before the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development could accept an application for demolition approval.
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