Philadelphia University Institutional Facilities Plan
Background and History
Philadelphia University was founded in 1884 as the Philadelphia Textile School in the wake of the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
By the mid-1890's, the School had settled at Broad and Pine Streets in downtown Philadelphia. It survived the Depression and entered a new period of growth at the outset of World War II. In 1941, the School was granted the right to award baccalaureate degrees and changed its name to the Philadelphia Textile Institute (PTI).
By 1949, PTI, relocated from downtown and began conducting classes on the present main campus site in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. Throughout the 1950's, it continued to be successful and, in 1961, changed its name to Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science (PCT&S).
The College purchased the adjoining (former Lankenau School) property in 1972, doubling the size of its campus to a little over 25 acres. With the purchase and donation of adjacent properties over the next forty years, included the buildings and grounds of the former Ravenhill Academy, PCT&S continued a path of successful slow growth to its current size of approximately 100 acres.
To better reflect the institution’s breadth and depth, the College applied for and was granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1999. And, in a historic move, the Board of Trustees voted to change the School’s name to Philadelphia University on July 13, 1999.
The University now has three colleges, including the College of Architecture and the Built Environment; the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce; and the College of Science, Health and the Liberal Arts
Why is the University presenting a master plan and intending to change its zoning classification to Special Purpose – Institutional (SP-I)?
Like many of the education institutions located in this area of the city, Philadelphia University enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the East Falls community. Since the creation of the zoning code, and for over half a century the R-2 & R-12 zoning classifications that the University’s parcels fell within permitted the university’s type of use through an instrument called a “certificate of use”. In the early 2000’s the city removed that entitlement from the zoning ordinance, then requiring variances for any additional changes of an institutional nature within an R-2 designation.
Variances are cumbersome for both the University and the community. The University must have an understanding of its ability to grow and stay current; and the community would like an understanding of how that might develop. In 2012 the university agreed to provide a plan to the community that would span as much as 30 years.
Coincidentally the City of Philadelphia was completing the Philadelphia 2035 city-wide rezoning plan. After almost a year of public meetings the City recently published and approved the Lower Northwest district plan for this area. Within that plan the recommendation is for Philadelphia University to reclassify its current parcels to a cohesive Special Purpose- Institutional zone.
In recognition of that recommendation and the community’s mandate that the University develop a long term master plan or they would refuse future variances, the university is presenting this master plan and will engage the process.
How did the University arrive at this plan?
Over the past two years the University has been accumulating feedback from the community about what is liked about the University, and what concerns they might have with certain growth aspects. The University also diligently attended all of the work sessions of the Lower Northwest district plan.
Coincidental with that the University has completed several internal studies concerning space utilization, facility condition, ADA accessibility, the growth and regression of certain majors, trends within higher education, market comparisons, site restrictions and best utilization of our existing site and properties; and of course we reflected on our past history.
During this time the University also joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) pledging a reduction of its carbon footprint with an end goal of neutrality by 2035. In 2012 the University completed a comprehensive sustainable landscape master plan. Both the 2035 Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the 2012 Landscape master plan are publicly available through links from our web site.
Philadelphia University’s location and amenities have been critical to its past success and we believe will play heavy in the future. The delivery of higher education however; continues to evolve, more-so since the Internet, and contemporary teaching spaces demand significant and unknown evolution by 2045.
Our comprehensive approach to professional education demands a unique variety of educational spaces that have a significant portion of learn-by-doing labs and studios. With the exception of track and cross country our grounds contain our athletic facilities, greatly attributing to a campus feel. Approximately 90% of our freshman prefer to live on campus, but that diminishes after sophomore year, in some part due to preference, but also their professional extra- curricular activities such as study abroad and internships.
The lynchpins of this master plan center on the demands of the largest continuous land requirements, which are our athletic facilities, coupled with the current portfolio of our existing structures, understanding that a few may reach the end of their useful life in the next 30 years. The goal was then to focus on the new facilities that might be required, while still aligning with the guiding principles of the CAP and the other studies mentioned above. The plan needed to have flexibility to grow incrementally while always being fiscally responsible.
Rather than engage a single firm to accomplish this plan, the University has engaged a team of consultants that are familiar with our campus and are experts within their respective fields. Here are the key project consultants: Derck & Edson Associates - Landscape Architects and Engineers specializing in Campuses ( Lancaster, PA) , Phillip Parsons- world renowned campus planner, emeritus with Sasaki ( Boston, MA), who has advised the University for over a decade, Fox Rothschild as counsel ( Philadelphia, PA), Boles Smythe Engineers-for civil and storm water ( Philadelphia, PA). Additional consultants and sub consultants have been and will continue to be used for specialty roles.
Why did the University create this web-site?
This web-site is intended to allow unfiltered access to the most recent iteration of the University’s plan. It will be coupled with informational meetings and will evolve and potentially be adjusted by public comment and additional information. The revision date should always be noted.
How will this zoning change happen?
Informal meetings have already taken place with key members of the community and the City to allow guidance of the plan to this point. The University will now commence the formal process. It will present to the EFCC zoning committee in concert with other stakeholders such as the Friends of the Wissahickon and of course the EFCC’s general meeting. We anticipate the plan will continue to adjust slightly related to more focused feedback. Some adjustments have already been made to reflect comments from the informal meetings, so if you have been following along, this plan may be slightly amended from the last version you have seen.
Eventually an ordinance of series of ordinances will be created and introduced to establish the new SP-I District. After final comment and final adjustment the plan is voted on by City Council and becomes law.
What happens if changes are needed to the plan after that?
Our understanding is that the plan is fairly restrictive and only small adjustments are considered for administrative approval by City planning. Changes greater than their authority requires an amendment voted on by City Council.
Building within the plan outline requires building permits, but not a zoning process. Buildings over a certain size, even if on the plan, require an architectural review process that includes public comment.
Significant adjustments would trigger a re-engagement of the process and new or amended ordinance(s)
How can I learn more?
We hope this web page is fairly self-explanatory but the university also intends to conduct presentations for the benefit of the community. The times and locations will be posted on this web page as well as be noted on related community web pages at their discretion.
We will also allow community organizations to link to this section of our webpage to gain the most recent version of the plan.
Let’s have a little fun!
The university has gone to extraordinary measures to 3D map our entire perimeter. To gain an understanding of the intended changes, please go to the Master Plan Site Plan and click on the numbered links. Photos of the campus as it exists today, and then 3D illustrations of what the campus might look by the end of the plan, from the perspective of each of those locations will pop up!
While some future buildings are nearer term and have some preliminary rendering of how they may appear, the box-like shapes are simply a graphical representation of the size and bounds of the intended structures. Philadelphia University benefits from having an eclectic portfolio of building architecture within its campus, and that is likely to continue with future buildings. We really are not sure of what the designs will reflect. We have a history of working with renowned architects and creating award winning buildings and hope that tradition continues.
How can I leave feedback?
You can also come to the public meetings.