By Kevin Riordan

A new vision for upgrading much of Cheltenham’s municipal infrastructure got generally positive reactions during a township commission meeting Tuesday.

Commission president Matthew Areman said the revised proposal calls for consolidating municipal offices in a new administration building, constructing a public works facility, and renovating three community centers. The township also would replace its two existing pools and build a central library.

Previous versions of the proposal sparked fierce opposition from residents concerned about diluting the township’s small-town vibe, as well as the projected cost of the project. Others said any proposal should explicitly address continued maintenance of all of the buildings that are retained, renovated, or built.

“Because of past [maintenance] neglect, this board decided it had no the choice but to act,” Areman said.

“This visioning phase is critical to the detailed financial analysis and planning, [after which] the actual design work can begin,” he said. “Questions about how big or small or large or tall facilities should be will be answered later.”

More than 200 people attended the special session, which was held on Zoom. No vote was scheduled, but Areman said the seven-person board of commissioners would “debate and vote in the near future.”

“I believe that most people were quite happy with the changes that have been made, and it appeared that the board has listened to what is important to the citizens,” Rhonda Genzink Isser, whose Cheltenham Infrastructure Solutions page on Facebook has 1,700 followers, said Wednesday.

During the meeting, Geraldine Brown, a longtime resident and community leader in the historically Black neighborhood of La Mott, was elated that the proposal provides for making improvements and restoring library services at the La Mott Community Center. The building has been largely unusable for several years due to heating and other issues.

Brown also praised the acquisition of a $3.8 million federal grant for renovating the community center. It was obtained through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean (D., Pa.) and township Commissioner Mitchell Zygmund-Felt.

“I’m delighted … that after all [this time] we have positive news,” Zygmund-Felt said.

Under the revised proposal, the Glenside branch library would be renovated into a community center and, like the centers at La Mott and Rowland, would provide some localized library services. The township would divest itself of the Elkins Park branch, as well as the building that houses the Cheltenham Center for the Arts.

But what that means for the future of the nonprofit center that has leased the former Joseph Heller School building since 1953 is unclear.

Divestment “doesn’t necessarily mean selling it to the highest bidder,” Areman said. “There are opportunities … for the arts center to have a home in Cheltenham.”

Margaret Griffen, executive director of the center, said that “some conversations have been underway, and they [the township] did leave the door open for further discussion.”

Noting that the center was founded in Cheltenham in 1940, she said: “We believe this institution is absolutely vital to the community, and we believe the building itself is a vital part of the institution.”


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