As many Cheltenham Township residents already know, our Board of Commissioners are considering multiple options for updating our township-owned facilities.

Local PBS media outlet WHYY recently published an article about the existing Facilities Study. The article below was copied from WHYY’s website.

View original WHYY article

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

Township officials are weighing four potential plans to address aging buildings and infrastructure. Residents have varying opinions on the undertaking.

Bill England poses for a photo.
Bill England has been Cheltenham resident for nearly 20 years. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

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.

A stair case with caution tape across it at the top.
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.

A view of a park with trees in Elkins Park
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.

Common to Option A, B and C would be the establishment of community-based satellite library services and “splash pads” at Glenside Library and the two community centers and the demolition of Glenside Memorial Hall and the old school building attached to Rowland Community Center. All of which will cost at least $18 million.

A sign reads Glenside Free Library. A building and trees are visible in the background.
Glenside Free Library in Glenside, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Option D is closest to the status quo. While there would be a municipal campus at the existing Breyer property, the current community facilities and pools would be renovated where they stand.

“This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to evaluate the model with which Cheltenham provides services to residents and our future generations,” Norris said. “We are evaluating as many possible solutions and partnerships as possible to ensure an outcome that leaves Cheltenham better than we received it for future generations.”

Some Cheltenham residents concerned about centralizing township facilities

Established in 1682, Cheltenham has a rich history deeply entangled with Quakerism, the abolition movement, suffrage and social justice.

The township consists of multiple neighborhoods, each with their own unique feel.

“One of the things that has been expressed by many is the fact that we want to live in a sustainable, walkable community,” said Bill England, a Cheltenham resident and former school board member. “By removing neighborhood assets and centrally locating them, it takes away from the ability to be a walkable community.”

Exterior of a building with title Rowland Community Center visible.
The Rowland Community Center in Cheltenham, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Right now, residents of La Mott, for example, can walk to the La Mott Community Center and Library. The same is true for residents of Cheltenham Village and the Rowland Community Center. Kids in Glenside often ride their bikes to the nearby pool and library.

“There’s great concern about losing that flavor and that character that we’ve all come to appreciate,” said Rhonda Isser, who previously served on the township’s stormwater management committee, planning commission and facilities committee.

Rhonda Isser sits in a chair in her home.
Rhonda Isser has helped foster conversations about Cheltenham’s facilities in a re-activated Facebook group. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Isser recently reactivated the Cheltenham Infrastructure Solutions Facebook page, which she “retired” not too long after the township finished handling its stormwater issue.

The page has 1,600 members engaging in spirited discussions about how the township can solve its facilities problem.

The Facebook page has also helped spread the word about a Cheltenham Chamber of Citizens survey on how the township should address its facilities.

Edie Cerebi, president of the organization, said a large portion of the respondents are against centralization and the razing of historic buildings.

“They overwhelmingly indicated that pools, libraries and community centers should remain in the communities that they serve,” Cerebi said.

A sign reads Richard Wall Park.
Wall Park in Elkins Park, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

She said a little more than half of respondents did not feel that the current proposals meet the needs of the communities.

The Board of Commissioners held a tense special meeting on Nov. 16 to address the facilities plan and to highlight the benefits of consolidation such as lower long-term costs, increased sustainability and “reduced redundancy.”

For now, the proposal that aligns closest with the status quo is Option D, which calls for the establishment of a municipal campus at the existing Breyer Estate. That’s the site which currently houses the township administration building, the police station, emergency medical services building, and the tax office, renovations of the community centers, as well as the replacement of the existing pool sites. One positive of this proposal, highlighted in the report, is that it would occur entirely on township-owned land.

However, all of the proposals share some commonalities such as the creation of a new public works facility — which will cost at least $15 million. The authors of the study also recommend divesting the Cheltenham Arts Center and the historic Shovel Shop, which was originally the Rowland House.

With an estimated project cost of $50 million to $67 million, Option D is likely the cheapest short-term option. However, the contractors said it comes with higher long-term costs and that it doesn’t address the “added programmatic needs for the libraries or community centers.”

“Operating costs of this scenario could be higher than the previous scenarios due to additional staffing needs, utility costs and physical plant maintenance and repairs,” the final feasibility report read.

A playground visible among several tall trees
The Conklin Pool & Recreation area in Elkins Park, Pa., in Jan., 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

England, who recently ran for commissioner, said the state of the township’s assets played a role in his motivation to seek office.

“I’d like to see the timeline slow down,” England said. “We’ve had decades of neglect, particularly over the past 12 years or so — no investment in our facilities. Now all the sudden it’s like we have a fire and we’re racing forward to make this major investment. What I would like to see happen is let’s slow this timeline down.”

The exterior of the Glenside Free Library
Glenside Free Library in Glenside, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

‘We have nothing new to offer since I graduated from here’: Cheltenham’s proposals have fans who desire change

Not everyone is a naysayer to consolidated municipal campuses.

“Why not have a centralized location where we could have really robust programming and offering and that could be utilized by a lot more people,” said Abby Brownstein, a Cheltenham native who moved back into the township with her family in 2021 from Fishtown.

Brownstein said she’s “confused” by the resistance to the proposal. She said the opposition to it feels a bit “short-sighted.”

“I think that we do need to make nicer, bigger, better facilities to attract people leaving the city and bringing in different tax dollars. We have nothing new to offer since I graduated from here,” Brownstein said. “I was really surprised to come back and notice that nothing has changed.”

Mary Russell, a longtime Democratic committee person and “devoted” Conklin Pool swimmer, said she doesn’t know what’s best for Cheltenham, “but only a few people can actually walk to those two pools and to the libraries and community centers in the township.”

“My concern is that there are a lot of people in the township we’ve not heard from. I thought the people who made comments [during the November board meeting] on the Zoom were not representative of the township as a whole,” Russell said.

A sign reads Conklin Pool & Recreation area. A low brick building is visible in the background.
The Conklin Pool & Recreation area in Elkins Park, Pa., in Jan., 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Russell said she’s always thought of herself as a Cheltenham Township resident first, not a Rowland Park resident. She said it appears the rest of Cheltenham has to answer that question to the best of their ability:

“Are we Cheltenham Township as one whole township or are we a bunch of neighborhoods within the municipality of Cheltenham?”

Nick Steever, who moved to the township in 2020, said he leans on the side of having two centralized campuses.

“It’s a shame that the Tyler campus isn’t used for anything. I I think that that’s great. I think that that’s a good option, but obviously the cost of acquiring new sites have side effects of increased taxes, which we already have high taxes,” Steever said.

While he said he feels for the people in the individual neighborhoods who might lose a nearby pool, Steever said the Glenside pool is in poor condition and the overall experience has the potential to improve — even if that means centralizing it to a community campus.

“A lot of people are saying ‘it’s the tie that binds this community.’ It’s open for three months.

There’s other stuff in that community that they have and it must be awesome to live in Glenside because you can walk to restaurants, you can walk to stores, you can walk to the train …they have like a good, little city center there. I don’t think that this is going to be a make-or-break for Glenside,” Steever said.

Residents want increased communication about costs and cooperation between departments

England and Russell both expressed a desire for the school district and the township as two taxing entities to coordinate more as a possible solution to address their costly infrastructure problems.

“We have, unfortunately, a siloed situation where these two elected bodies are very focused on what their responsibilities are, but we need to see it’s time to overcome silos,” England said. “It’s time for the township and the school board to find a way to work together and develop a facilities plan that is going to include shared administrative offices.”

Some residents are worried about the price tag of this endeavor.

“I think the cost is scary — I’m not going to lie. And I haven’t seen enough information about funding, about grant processes, about what it will actually look like to our tax base. I am very curious about that,” Brownstein said.

Up-close view of the exterior of the Rowland Community Center and East Cheltenham Library
The Rowland Community Center in Cheltenham, Pa., in Jan. 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Overall, what residents yearned for the most was simply better communication between each other and from their elected officials.

Russell said she doesn’t want to impune on anyone’s motives.

“I do think the commissioners are trying to do what they think truly is the best for the township and I think everybody who spoke is trying to do the best for the township,” she said. “I think people really do have good intentions here.”

But of course, the township will eventually have to come to a decision. It’s just unclear when that will happen.

“There’s no one good answer but there has to be a good compromise that everyone can live with,” Isser said.

The next township Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21.


  1. Rhonda Isser says

    We would love for you all to join the conversation about this on our Facebook page that we started during the sewer sale and issue

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