Institutional Facilities Plan

Background and History of the Philadelphia University Campus

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.

In December 2015 Philadelphia University and Jefferson University announced intentions to integrate. That process is taking place and will continue over the next two years, becoming one University.

Why did the University  complete a facilities master plan and convert 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.

Graphic of Philadelphia 2035 Lower Northwest Plan designating SP-I for Philadelphia University

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 embarked on a multiple year planning and collaboration process with the campus, our designated Registered Community Orgnizations, and the community itself.

During the negotiation process it was determined that 30 years was too much to understand and agree upon, so the longer term initiatives were removed. Several versions of interim plans were refined until ultimately an agreeable plan could be put forth to City Planning with the community’s support. That plan is dated January 21, 2016.

The University extends its appreciation to all of those from the community that contributed to the process and especially those that understood and supported the University’s plan. We believe these improvements will strengthen both the University and the community, and it is a significant commitment to the City of Philadelphia, and investment in East Falls.  

That master plan including the designated projects, and along with the detailed ordinance, went through a number of public reviews. It was approved by City Planning, and sponsored by Councilman Curtis Jones,  was approved by City Council, and was signed into law by the Mayor John Kenney in December 2016; coincidental with the University’s zoning designation conversion to Special Purpose Institutional Master Plan zoning district.

How did the University arrive at the current facilities master plan?

Over the previous several years, and for a time with a steering committee, the University accumulated feedback from the community about what is liked about the University campus, 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 freshmen 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 will reach the end of their useful life during the timeframe of the plan.  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 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.

The current approved Philadelphia University facilities master plan:

Click here for Current Approved Plan

1-21-2016 Plan summary:

  • Maintains most of the existing buildings.
  • Provides for competitive athletic facilities improvements at Ravenhill and Main Campus. The softball field however remains in its current location.
  • Provides for an assortment of incremental housing options that the University can implement as needed and are fiscally responsible. Approximately 700 beds +.
  • Provides for modest academic growth, with a few new contemporary facilities: i.e., Health & Science Center (Hayward Hall Addition), Architectural School expansion module, and the replacement of Downs Hall. The proposed “swing or mixed use building” shown on the earlier plans has been removed.
  • There is no transportation Center or Henry Ave pedestrian bridge within this plan.
  • Some new or replacement parking will occur within the designated development zones. Parking will be aggregated across campus and surpasses regulatory requirements. The campus parking regulations will be adjusted as the development occurs to accommodate need, with a goal of more efficient utilization.
  • Provides for a new contemporary University pedestrian entrance at the corner, with proximate visitor parking.
  • Plan aligns with the commitments of the University’s Association of College and University Presidents’ Carbon Commitment, Climate Action Plan, currently on file.
  • Plan aligns with Philadelphia University’s 2012 Sustainable Landscape Master Plan.
  • Storm water improvements will continue to be done in synchronized support of the plan.
  • The 1-21-2016 plan added clarity in the legend to better distinguish improvement zones from building zones, as well as provides details such as where the existing loading zones are located. It better illustrates the intended tree buffers, and the intended improvement zone boundaries.

The University has gone to extraordinary measures to 3D map our entire perimeter and provide an interactive plan that includes photos of the campus as it exists today, and 3D illustrations of what the campus might look by the end of the plan. By clicking on interactive plan’s buttons aerial and street view perspectives of each of those locations will pop up!

Click here for 3D map

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.

Why did the University create this website?

This web-site is intended to allow unfiltered access to the most recent iteration of the University’s plan. It has and will continue to be coupled with informational meetings when projects are upcoming and if adjustments are needed.

What happens if changes are needed to the plan?

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 no hearing before the City's Zoning Board of Adjustments. 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)

What is happening soon?

The University has commenced the zoning and construction approval process for the plans first project. Information has been sent to the EFCC and EFF RCO’s coincidental with the application.  It will be a new 60,000+ gsf Health and Science Center, designed by Jacobs, fronting Henry Ave. The building’s plans are consistent with the master plan, and the building is smaller than the requirement for a Civic Design Review.  Zoning has been approved as of February 2017. The University hopes to break ground on this building later in the year.