CHOP Update

Members of the SOSNA board of directors were invited to attend a meeting on May 15, 2012 in Naval Square for a presentation of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Master Plan for their Schuylkill Avenue site. This is a summary of that meeting.

There are three primary phases to the life of a project of this type: Master Planning, Design Development and Construction. August 29, 2011, CHOP held a meeting for the stakeholders and community leaders to introduce their consultant who was tasked with creating the master plan for the Schuylkill Ave site. The consultant, Cooper Robertson & Partners, is a very well respected architecture and planning firm from NYC. At that meeting, they shared their philosophy and offered some insight into their process, but more importantly, asked pointed questions and documented the feedback received to help guide their planning process. Nine months later, the Master Plan has been completed, and (apparently) accepted by CHOP, so they shared the details of it with the community at a meeting at Naval Square on May 15. As such, this is a milestone in the life of the project, completing the Master Planning stage and laying the groundwork for the Design Development stage which will come next.

The consultant was tasked with assessing the site, its connections with the city, its relation to the CHOP campus, the proximity of the Schuylkill River Trail, etc. and painting the broad strokes of how the site should be developed. This is not a plan heavy on specific details about building heights, materials, and the like. That being said, to bring everyone up to speed, the meeting began with a brief discussion of the overall plans CHOP has for the site. They include, relocating office and dry lab space that CHOP currently leases in various office buildings around Philadelphia (UCity Science Center, Wanamaker Building, etc.) to a new complex of their own. This will not be patient care or medical offices, and as such, the building will primarily be occupied by CHOP employees, rather than patients or the general public. The timeline CHOP has established would phase construction, allowing them to take occupancy of their new buildings as the various leases in the office buildings around the city expire. The first such expiration will come in 2017, so Phase I of the three planned phases will be complete by then. The next two phases will follow in some as-yet-unidentified schedule, perhaps taking up to 20 years to fully complete the site.

The Master Plan has taken the various program elements, such as office/lab space, retail spaces, public open space, SRT access and parking and worked to develop the best way to situate them on the site. The programming breakdown for each phase was roughly 500,000 sf of building area and 500 parking spaces in Phase I, 350,000 sf of building area and 350 parking spaces in Phase II and an additional 500,000 and 500 parking spaces in Phase III.

Parking: Since the site is so close the Schuylkill River, providing underground parking is not feasible. The solution they came up with is to keep the parking as far away from the streets as possible, and shield or wrap them with other, active uses such as a pharmacy, cafe and perhaps retail. The exact uses have not yet been determined. Parking will be located at the lower floors of each building and have its primary access directly from the South Street Bridge. This will require the introduction of a new traffic light on the bridge, but will alleviate the issues associated with having all of those cars come down on to 27th St and Schuylkill Avenue. Since this entrance will be considerably above the level of Schuylkill Avenue, stairs and an ADA-accessible elevator will connect it to the site's lower level. There will be entrances to the buildings both at this upper lever and off of Schuylkill Ave.

From the South Street entrance, there will be a sort of elevated plaza extending over the railroad tracks where people can view the river. There will be a stair from this plaza down to the Schuylkill River Trail (once it's been completed south of the bridge) that will provide public access for the neighborhood to the Trail.

Bainbridge Street's profile will be extended into the site all the way to the CSX tracks and will be a pedestrian mall of commercial spaces accessed from Schuylkill Avenue. The plans showed extensive landscaping along Schuylkill Avenue and a sort of plaza paralleling Schuylkill Ave, under which will be large rainwater runoff storage tanks which may be able to provide water to the Veolia plant, thereby reducing their use of potable water to produce steam. The entire project, at this point, is designed to be LEED silver certified and the buildings will have green roofs.

There will be 3 or 4 large buildings proceeding along the site from north to south. The buildings as currently envisioned will be 500,000, 500,000, and 130,000 square feet and probably 30 to 40 stories tall. The presentation included only drawings showing probable volumes of the buildings as the architectural plans have not been worked out at this stage.They are oriented so that their narrow sides face the river and Schuylkill Ave. and there will be space between them in an effort to minimize the impact to the sunlight on the adjacent properties across Schuylkill Ave. There also may be a hotel/conference building which would accommodate 120 people or so - mostly for out-of-town, out-of-country visitors and parents whose children are patients at CHOP or who are participating in trials or conferences at the facility.

Neighbors in attendance expressed some concerns about the height of the buildings (but since the site is so large CHOP can build that high by right), about the disruption to bicycle traffic on the South St bridge by adding another intersection, and about parking and construction disruption in the neighborhood during construction. There were also wishes expressed that CHOP have discussions with SEPTA and UPENN about extending the LUCY route or having a shuttle from the main hospital campus/30th St. station to the new facility. The South x Schuylkill committee, which is actively participating in the project and of which SOSNA is integral member, has worked with CHOP to alleviate neighborhood concerns.