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WICA Backs Expansion at Northern Children's Services

Renovated buildings and addition planned for Ridge Avenue facility.

With historically sensitive aspects included in the plan, Northern Children's Service earned neighborhood approval to renovate and expand a building at its Ridge Avenue campus.

The Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association agreed Wednesday to the human service organization's proposal to renovate the Merrick Building, allowing the group to expand its mother-baby program.

"To me, there's no down side to this. The renovation, at worst, does nothing to the neighborhood, and I'm sure it will improve the area," WICA Vice President Chip Roller said.

Architects for Northern Children's Services, formerly the Northern Home for Children, detailed the expansion at the group's September meeting, where it received preliminary support.

On Wednesday, architect Tomasz Pietke, from Jacobs Wyper Architects, said the plan called for four, two-bedroom apartments and eight dormitory-style bedrooms.

This allows NCS to expand its housing for single mothers. Through its Generations I and Next Generations program, NCS serves young mothers who require assistance in childcare and reintegration into society. The first program falls under the Department of Human Service's jurisdiction and the second one is the Department of Housing and Urban Development—Next Generations houses homeless mothers.

According to information provided by the agency, the program intends to expand from 40 to 76 clients. The Next Generations housing will exist as a permanent housing option.

Additionally, NCS will erect two additions that will serve as an entrance and elevator tower. Office space will also be included. Fifteen paved parking spaces will also be added to the campus, to serve off-site employees to utilize during training.

At the September meeting, the project's historical continuity was a focal point for the civic association. In their research, architects discovered the Merrick Building—currently vacant—possessed a wrap-around porch. Although budget constraints initially put that on the wish list, Pietke confirmed Wednesday it will be included in the final plans, much to the civic's liking.

Bernard Guet, executive director for the Roxborough Development Corporation, questioned the building facade's color and composition—although renovations will remain stone, new construction consists of a fiber cement board.

"The plan is for it to imitates the stone while allowing the historical aspects to stand out," Pietke said. "We think it's a very sensitive way to approach stone."

With the neighborhood's approval, NCS will present before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment Oct. 17. The project requires zoning approval for any property changes, because 5301 Ridge Ave. is residential—even though the human services use dates back more than 100 years, it still is nonconforming.

NCS said, start-to-finish, the project should take 1 year to complete.

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