If the team slated to turn the former Germantown High School into an apartment complex gets its way, it could be ready for move-in in 18 months.
If the development team slated to turn the former Germantown High School into an apartment complex gets its way, residents could start moving into the building in as soon as 18 months, according to Anthony Fullard, a consultant for the developer who presented plans for the project Thursday night at Center in the Park.
The public meeting, which was the first for the project since 2019, was organized by Councilmember Cindy Bass’ office.
“The impact and repurposing of the Germantown High School is critical for the community,” Fullad said. “A [vacant] building that size is a problem and a big problem.”
The development team appeared before the community even though the group had ‘by right’ zoning for the project, which means community input is not required before construction. The former high school building has been vacant since the last class graduated in 2013 and was purchased by Germantown Development Group, which is a partnership between developers Jack Azran and Eli Alon, in 2017. Azran and Alon were not present at the meeting.
Plans presented to residents, who filled Center in the Park’s auditorium to the brim, showed that the project will be built in four phases. The first phase will consist of constructing 45 units in Germantown High’s “addition building,” which is located on the side of the property that borders Germantown Avenue and Haines Street. Phase two will consist of creating 57 units in the school’s “Industrial Arts building,” which is on the side of the street that borders Haines Street. The main school building, which fronts High Street, will include 99 units and is slated for phase three. In the last phase of the project, 37 units will be built in the school’s former gym.
That’s 238 total units slated for the project, which when completed will sit right in the heart of Germantown’s bustling business corridor. According to the development team’s architect, David Polatnick, the development will also include about 180 parking spaces. The project will be entirely residential, except for a coffee shop that will be located in the main section of the complex, which will front Germantown Avenue.
“We’ve basically almost completed the addition building and the industrial arts building,” Polatnick said. “We're getting ready to permit the main building, [but for] the gymnasium, we’re waiting a little bit longer.”
Renderings of some of the units’ interiors also were presented to residents.
Fullard, who was born and raised in Germantown, said that “there is an affordable [housing] plan going into this development,” but couldn’t offer specifics on the development team’s definition of “affordable” or how many units would be deemed affordable. But he said that affordable housing, along with housing for people with disabilities, “is exactly what this community needs.”
At the meeting, he said that the development team is collaborating with Liberty Resources, an affordable housing provider, to incorporate housing that’s both affordable and accessible into the project.
“Germantown is a highly sought-after area for nursing home transition consumers,” Lisa Jackson, nursing home transition support coordinator for Liberty Resources, said at the meeting. “People who grew up in this community want to come back and they want to have affordable, accessible housing.”
Fullard also said he couldn’t reveal the total cost of the project, but said it’s “in the millions” of dollars.
Bass called the development “more than just a piece of real estate.”
“This is something that is very 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.”
Fullard, owner of West Powelton Development, also has the rights to investigate developing Germantown Town Hall, which is currently owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. Fullard’s plans for that building, which is located across the street from Germantown High School, include turning it into apartments and adding a three-story apartment building in its rear parking lot. The proposal would contain 39 total units.
Fullard said he is not a partner in the Germantown High School project and has “no financial ties.” He was hired by that developer over the summer to help with community relations, he said.
Germantown residents the Local spoke with had mixed opinions about the project.
“Having a building that big, that’s huge,” said Germantown resident Jayson Massey. “I think every unit helps a little – even if they’re not affordable units.”
Suzanne Ponsen, West Central Germantown Neighbors’ board president, said that she was disappointed the plan didn’t include more commercial use, especially given the potential of the high school’s auditorium.
“That theater is an amazing auditorium,” she said. “That could be a wonderful global community theater or a place where people could meet for meetings and stuff like that.”
Like Ponsen, Germantown United CDC executive director Emaleigh Doley was disappointed to see the lack of commercial or other nonresidential use incorporated into the plans. However, she was encouraged to hear about the development team’s plans to incorporate affordable housing.
“The fact that they’re partnering with an affordable housing provider sounds promising,” Doley said. “That is a way to bring more deeply affordable housing to a project.”
When Azran acquired the property in 2017, he 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, and 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.
Doley told the Local Thursday night that she’s been reaching out to the developers “every couple months” since that time because her organization received so many questions about the project from residents and other stakeholders. She was happy that those stakeholders finally got some answers, especially since it is a ‘by right’ project.
“A little information,” she said, “goes a long way.”