Pottstown fire companies train in homes slated for demolition

By Evan Brandt, The Mercury

Reposted from The Mercury

POTTSTOWN >> Neighbors and borough officials haven’t had much use for the two homes in the 100 block of North Evans Street, which have been vacant and blighted for years.

But last week, they were of great use to a group of firefighters who welcomed the opportunity for a training session at an unfamiliar location.

“We’ve been training at the county training site for years, so we’ve become pretty familiar with the lay of the land down there,” said Andrew Gilliano, training captain for the North End Fire Company. “So it was good for us to practice in a structure that was unfamiliar to us.”

The twin home, recently stripped of its asbestos siding, was torn down Saturday to make room for additional parking for the apartments that will become part of a soon-to-be renovated old Fecera’s Furniture warehouse across Beech Street.

But before they were reduced to rubble, they served as an excellent place for firefighters to train in such techniques as “hose-line advancement, search and rescue techniques, ladder training” and even training in cutting roof holes and removing windows for rescue purposes.

“The fire companies were ecstatic about having a new training area, even if it was just for two days,” Gilliano said.

Members from all four borough fire companies, as well as surrounding companies including West End, Sanatoga, Ringing Hill and Norco, participated.

“We set the whole thing up in about 16 hours,” said Gilliano.

“The company that owns the property and is tearing it down was nothing but accommodating,” he said of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Housing Visions, Inc.

That company has partnered with Norristown-based Genesis Housing Inc., both non-profit agencies, to transform the 61,000 square-foot former shirt factory into 43 affordable apartments for artists and a new home for ArtFusion 19464, the non-profit gallery and art school now located in the 200 block of East High Street.

In order for the $13-million project to win borough approval, it had to provide a total of 68 parking spots — made possible by the purchase and leveling of the two North Evans Street homes, which are adjacent to the site’s existing parking lot on the south side of Beech Street.

Judy Memberg, executive director at Genesis, said the project “is a little behind schedule, but we’re hoping to catch up to our schedule as the work gets going.”

Interior demolition took place at the end of February and Memberg said it will be six months before applications for the apartments can be submitted.

“We’re hoping to be finished and ready for a grand opening early next year,” said Memberg.

The plan calls for 33 one-bedroom apartments; three two-bedroom apartments and seven three-bedroom apartments, as well as the parking spaces.

Rents would range from $600 to more than $900 per month.

The rent will change and is based on the median income for the greater five-county Philadelphia area, according to Heather Schroeder, development project manager for Housing Visions.

To be accepted as tenants, adults would still need to meet the other qualifications required for tenancy, said Schroeder, qualifications which include vigorous criminal and sexual offender’s background checks, as well as income qualifications.

Additionally, those applicants who pay all or part of their rent through housing vouchers, often referred to as Section 8, would also be accepted, provided that they passed the screening process, she said.

In addition to screening tenants, Schroeder said, Housing Visions will have an on-site manager at the property, a commitment that will be kept for the next 30 years.

The project also plans other amenities, said Memberg and Schroeder. They include a community room, computer room, laundry and storage as well as financial counseling to help move the tenants into home ownership.