Northern Children’s Services in Wissahickon seeks to raise $200K to replace boiler

By Eric Fitzsimmons – Originally published in the Roxborough Review on February 3, 2016. Read the online article here. 

WISSAHICKON >> A boiler heating three of the eight buildings at Northern Children’s Services broke down again, and for the last time, in January, leaving the organization to start a GoFundMe page to raise money to replace the boiler and restore heat to the campus. 

“Wednesday last week — it’s not the best boiler but it was doing the trick, for the most part — suddenly the maintenance people came up to tell us the boiler has just completely shut down. I went down but I’ve never seen a boiler do this. Just water spewing out of the boiler from every direction,” NCS President and CEO Renata Cobbs-Fletcher said in a conversation Jan 28.

Trying to quickly raise the funds to bring heat back to the buildings, NCS started an online fundraiser at GoFundMe.com/NCSNeedsABoiler, asking for supporters, neighbors and friends to pitch in and help spread the word.

More than a mere inconvenience, the sudden failure of the boiler has disrupted operations at the center, Cobbs-Fletcher said. The lack of heat forced NCS to close that first Thursday and Friday, which put the staff behind, cost the organization in lost revenue while not being able to provide services, and it meant cancelling two days of an after-school behavioral health program.

Since the snowstorm, the staff has returned and the program is back in session, but through largely ad hoc measures such as conducting therapy sessions in an empty residential space, splitting up the after-school program because the small activity center cannot accommodate all the kids the gymnasium could and shortened lunches in the cold cafeteria.

“The staff has been great about crafting some temporary solutions,” Cobbs-Fletcher said, “but it’s not a sustainable solution.”

The space heaters have a tendency to overload the fuses and so have to be used strategically and are not up to the task of heating a whole room, according to Cobbs-Fletcher. Staff has doubled up in rooms but many use desktop computers, so even getting each employee access to their work has been a logistical challenge.

Children who come to NCS for services are affected the most. Manager of Marketing and Communication Bonnie Dugan said all of the children who come for their services have a history of trauma, making it all the more important that NCS provide consistency and comfort when the children are there.

“Being able to have a sanctuary is critical to the services and critical to them because they are coming from very awful situations that they’re trying to overcome,” Dugan said.

According to Cobbs-Fletcher, NCS was already about to make some costly repairs to the boiler to get through the winter while preparing to replace and upgrade the nearly 50-year-old system for next winter, a plan that has now been scrapped.

The engineering study alone to overhaul the system was estimated to take about six months, time NCS does not have the luxury to spare, Cobbs-Fletcher said. On top of that is the higher cost, which was another element the organization would have liked to plan in advance if the boiler had not suddenly ceased to function.

NCS has worked quickly through available avenues to raise the necessary funds and begin the process of removal and installation, itself a major task in such an old building.

The GoFundMe page was set up to share the story with as many people in the area as possible and start collecting donations while staff at NCS has been scrambling to find an open room with heat in which to meet with major donors, Cobbs-Fletcher said.

The stated goal of $200,000 was based on research for the system upgrade, according to Cobbs-Fletcher, and while she hopes the estimate for the more basic replacement will be significantly less, there is still a great deal of money to raise.

“This can’t be a permanent solution right now. It’s just not possible to continue on with this type of functionality that we’re working with,” Dugan said.

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

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