Wissahickon civic approves renovation plans for historic Northern Children’s Services building

By Matthew Grady – Originally published by NewsWorks on September 14, 2012. 

New renovations and the ongoing rebranding of Northern Children’s Services dominated the meeting of the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association on Wednesday night. 

WICA members – who meet in the board room at NCS – listened to a presentation about additions and rehab efforts at Merrick Hall, a historic building, built in 1862, on NCS’s Ridge Avenue campus in Roxborough.

Proposals for new signage were presented, which the organization hopes will draw attention to NCS, formerly named Northern Home for Children.

Proposed plans

Architect and former NCS board president Jamie Wyper gave an overview of the designs for Merrick Hall, which will undergo a complete renovation to provide 8,000 square feet for use by residents, many of whom are teenage mothers. Wyper estimated the cost of the project at $4.2 million.

Sixteen rooms, each approximately 150 to 200 sq. ft., will be installed throughout the existing structure’s three floors, and will accommodate one mother and one child. Shared kitchen and bathing facilities will be available, as will a daycare facility for up to 24 children.

A proposed addition to the building will feature four apartments to house homeless teenage mothers with up to two children each in a permanent supportive living environment.

Site improvements would also be made, to include the repurposing of an existing basketball court in a parking lot. Moveable basketball hoops would allow for the retention of recreation possibilities for the space.

Lastly, new roofing, doors and windows would be installed in the existing building, which Wyper noted would utilize “historically appropriate” materials.

The targeted date for completion is August 2013.

Abiding by historic restoration standards

Wyper began the response portion with details about exterior design aspects.

“Renovations like this are not cheap,” noted Wyper. “There was quite a bit of repair on the inside to make this work.”

To offset the cost, NCS has acquired some federal funding, but it did not come without strings attached. Wyper explained that they must comply with standards for historic restoration as set forth by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

“They’re adamant that if you’re adding to a historic building, you are not to make it look like it was there always – you are meant to make a distinction between new and original,” he said.

When asked about landscaping, Wyper replied that it would be “pretty minimal.”

“We don’t want to obstruct view of [building] too much,” he said. “We don’t want clutter up a lot of the ground – we like the idea of the lawn coming right up to the building.”

Wyper said that he expected a refusal from zoning based on non-conforming use in the near future. As such, WICA Vice-President Chip Roller explained that he could not say much more than “we agree,” but indicated that this project would not face objections from WICA going forward.

“It will be benign in terms of the neighborhood,” Roller stated. “They won’t really see it, which is good and bad because it looks so nice.”

With no opposition voiced, Wyper expressed satisfaction.

“[NCS] has been trying for four years to get this jump started and they finally, through a lot of hard work, were able to get enough money going to get started,” observed Wyper.

Signage debate

Still in the conceptual stages is a new sign for the NCS campus.

Dan Trent, director of buildings and grounds for NCS, floated several ideas for signage to be located at the campus’ Ridge Avenue entrance.

An initial design faced opposition at a recent Roxborough Development Corporation meeting, so Trent was amenable to input. He and his team has surveyed almost 100 different properties, and favored signs found on the Philadelphia University and William Penn Charter school campuses in East Falls.

No agreements were finalized, but a proposed sign width of 20 feet was firmly opposed.

“That’s wider than my house,” said Roller.

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Northern Children's Services

Northern Children’s Services supports the healthy development of children, while stabilizing their families to build stronger communities.