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On the Ground: Waldorf School of Philadelphia coming to Germantown

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With support from local developers, community groups, residents and now the zoning board, the Waldorf School of Philadelphia is picking up and moving. They are taking over the long-abandoned St. Peter's Episcopal Church at Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street, right in the heart of Germantown.

The move has been a long time coming. The 16-year-old school outgrew their New Covenant campus and is in need of more space.
 
"The church had been on our minds for a few years," says Cristina Shiffman, School Chair of Waldorf. "We researched a number of ways to acquire it, but found we couldn't purchase and renovate the property ourselves."
 
The school approached Ken Weinstein's Philly Office Retail, hoping they would buy the property and then lease it back to Waldorf. A major developer and stakeholder in Germantown, Weinstein and his company obliged.

"It's a Frank Furness design," exclaims Weinstein. "If we didn’t do something the buildings would have to be torn down in five years."

After a few years of negotiating and planning -- including an application for a special use zoning exemption (the property was zoned for residential use only; the exemption is now in place) -- Weinstein will purchase the church for $435,000.

Plans for the four buildings on the historic church's two-acre site include extensive renovations to add classrooms, redoing the aging roofs and adding floors inside the sanctuary. The building's façade will be entirely preserved. Weinstein says the project's cost will hover around $4 million. They expect to break ground this fall.

Shiffman says initial reception from the community has been encouraging. The school is already working with the Friends of the Wissahickon to take stewardship of a portion of the park adjacent to the new school grounds. They hope to use the green space for nature walks and educational activities.

In the years to come, Shiffman expects other adult education activities and community events to become the norm on school grounds. "We’re really pleased with how everything has come together so far," says Shiffman. "We’re excited to see what’s possible in Germantown."

Source: Cristina Shiffman, School Chair, Waldorf School of Philadelphia
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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