Four years after Temple University bought a plot of land at North Broad near Master Street, the North Philly school is finally making moves on the job training facility it promised to help build there.
Ryan Boyer, the business manager at the Laborers’ District Council (Temple’s partner on the project), told Billy Penn he expects the union will close on the final portion of the site in the next 30 days, and it will start construction by the end of the summer. That timeline comes with a caveat: the final agreement has not yet been signed.
Temple first announced it would construct a job training facility on the site back in 2015, but there have been few updates — until now. The years-long wait is relevant as Temple pursues the controversial development of a 35,000-seat, on-campus football stadium. The university has promised to fulfill a community benefits agreement that offsets disruption to the neighborhood with amenities.
Some residents — especially those opposed to the stadium’s construction — might wonder if those amenities will take as long to appear as this center.
A court battle over land rights
Temple finalized its purchase of the land back in Sept. 2014, snagging the site of the already-closed William Penn High School. At its zenith, the five-building public school in the heart of Yorktown had 1,200 students enrolled. It closed in 2010 when enrollment plummeted to the 600s.
By the time Temple bought it, the school had begun to fall apart and turned into an eyesore on North Broad.
Back then, the $15 million sale was controversial. Yorktown residents had deep connections to the school, and they were disappointed to see it go. In fact, the first time Temple tried to buy the land in July 2014, the William Penn Development Coalition filed a lis pendes to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and temporarily blocked the sale. (Emphasis on temporarily.)
To their dismay, the sale went through a few months later.
Temple started demolition in 2015, making room for the athletic fields now known as the Temple Sports Complex.
To sweeten the deal for neighborhood residents, the university promised to work with the Laborers’ District Council — a 5,000-member union that provides resources and connects its members with jobs in the Philly area — to build a job training facility.
What took so long?
It’s been four years since Temple first bought the land, and nearly two years since it finished construction on the Temple Sports Complex, opening it to various university athletic teams.
So why’d the job training center take so much longer to get going?
Temple didn’t provide a direct reason. University spokesperson Brandon Lausch wrote to Billy Penn in an email: “We have been working diligently with the Laborers’ District Council to help bring their facility to fruition and are excited that the LDC, through collaboration with Temple, will make training opportunities available in North Philadelphia.”
Boyer, on the other hand, offered a simple explanation for the years-long wait: the price.
Basically, for the last few years, Temple and the LDC have been struggling to negotiate the cost of the property at North Broad and Master.
“Obviously Temple bought it for one price that was public,” Boyer said. “They thought it was worth considerably more.”
And they haven’t officially settled yet, Boyer added, but he’s confident they will ASAP. “We’re very close.”
It’s too early to tell exactly what the facility will look like, but Boyer has nailed down a few details:
- It’ll be 55,000 square feet.
- It’ll include classroom space and an auditorium.
- It’ll sit on the northwest corner of Broad and Master, right across the street from the historic Freedom Theater.
- It’ll cover 60 percent of North Broad Street between Master and Girard.
He expects construction will take 20 months, so Yorktown residents can expect a grand opening some time around May 2020.
At its core, the facility will aim to train North Philadelphia residents in various trades to prepare them to join the LDC. It also hopes to partner with Temple to offer more academic classes, Boyer said, like math and reading.
The LDC plans to hire a training director to help run the facility, and it is currently developing partnerships with various North Philadelphia organizations to raise awareness of the facility among residents. Boyer declined to name the specific community groups with which the LDC is working.
Said Boyer: “We just want to be a community hub.”