What to do with aging facilities? Cheltenham Township has a multimillion dollar problem to solve

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Cheltenham Township’s administration building, community centers, libraries and pools are old and dilapidated.

Even some of its relatively newer buildings fall short of safety codes and standards.

To address the issues, the township’s Board of Commissioners contracted with KCBA Architects, Re:Vision and Snyder Hoffman Associates. The company assessed the facilities and charted a path forward. Nearly everyone in the township agrees about the state of the township’s facilities. It’s the costs and questions about how and where the township should rebuild that have caused a stir.

In a written statement to WHYY News, Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioner President Dan Norris said the municipality faces “some very difficult decisions with respect to its facilities.”

“From broken boilers that shutter its community centers in winter months to failing mechanical equipment in its 50-plus-year-old pools that threatened and delayed opening in 2023, to the many roofs, mechanicals, structural and other improvements required in all of its buildings to keep them operating,” Norris said.

Glenside Free Library in Glenside, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

KCBA presented a 206-page facilities study along with four proposals for Cheltenham to consider. The overall cost of the project is estimated to be more than $100 million. Residents are concerned about how the township plans to pay for the necessary improvements.

So far, the township has shared that it has two paths: borrowing a portion of the money or initiating a 5% tax increase over a fixed period of time.

For now, the Board of Commissioners has not yet voted on a concept plan.

“They are digesting the cost estimates, operational factors and potential economic impacts, as well as comments received from the public feedback,” said Lauren Walter, the township public information officer, in a written statement. “Once a concept is selected, the public will be further engaged in the design and programming phase for the facilities.”

There are four options

KCBA has given the township four options that fall under two categories: consolidating the facilities to two central campuses or keeping the various buildings, community centers, pools, and libraries where they currently stand. The first three align with the former.

Option A calls for a community campus at Wall Park and a municipal campus at the adjacent Breyer Estate. The township wouldn’t have to purchase more property and it would reduce timing conflicts. Cheltenham would construct a new library, community center, gym, and indoor pool complex as well as a new outdoor pool, skate park, courts, pavilion and additional amenities outside. This plan would require the township to move the soccer field to another location.

Wall Park in Elkins Park, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The project would cost Cheltenham $66 million to $90 million. The study finds Option A, the contractor recommended plan, to be the most inexpensive long-term option with the shortest project schedule.

Option B would require the township to acquire the former Temple University Tyler School of Art site and the strip mall at Penrose and Cheltenham Avenue. The township would establish a community campus at Tyler and a municipal campus at John Russell Park.

Option C would compel the district to purchase the old Tyler site, while creating a municipal campus at the Breyer estate. The contractors generally viewed Option B and C as the most expensive in the short term — upwards of $100 million or higher depending on acquisition prices.

  • January 17, 2024
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