A decaying and dangerous monument to one of the saddest chapters in the history of Philadelphia is currently in the process of disappearing from the urban landscape.
It has been a long journey to reach this point.
The last patients in Byberry State Hospital in Philadelphia were discharged in 1990 but the facility is only now being demolished to make way for upscale housing and office accommodations, a far cry from the institution whose many buildings occupied the sprawling site for more than 80 years.
It is, however, a difficult and dangerous project for more than one reason.
When the hospital was closed, its buildings were sealed and rapidly became both a neighborhood eyesore and structurally unsound. Its extensive grounds are neglected and overgrown. Free-floating asbestos was found in 1997 during an inspection by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).
In January 2004, however, steps were taken to begin the process of reclaiming the site when the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) acquired it on behalf of the city. PIDC is a not for profit corporation promoting job creation and economic development throughout Philadelphia. Its role in this case was to conduct the planning process and developer selection for the Byberry Hospital project.
After a lengthy planning process involving extensive community input, a master plan based upon appropriate usage of land and the proposed development’s relation to neighboring communities was finalized. In September 2004, the PIDC chose Westrum Development Corporation, based in Fort Washington, Pa., and Brandywine Realty Trust, headquartered in Radnor, Pa., to oversee the project. By April 2006 the two companies had all needed permits and approvals in hand and work could begin.
Description of the Project
Westrum Development Corporation plans to use 55 acres (22.3 ha) for the construction of 398 units of age-restricted housing, meaning homes for childless adults aged 55 and up. It is anticipated these dwellings will become available late next year or early in 2008. The residential area is to be called The Arbors at Eagle Pointe, while the remaining 25 acres will become a park.
Brandywine Realty Trust will market and develop up to 750,000 sq. feet. (69,677 sq m) of new office space in as many as half a dozen buildings situated on 50 acres (20.2 ha) of the former hospital site. This section of the development will be known as The Offices at Eagle Pointe.
On June 14 this year, John Westrum, president of Westrum Development Corporation, operated the backhoe which ceremonially flattened a wooden sign bearing the name of the hospital to signal the start of the massive project.
Local politicians in attendance then scooped out symbolic shovels of earth.
Geppert Bros Inc., headquartered in Colmar, Pa., is handling site preparation work.
“We have been and are continuing to carry out abatement, demolition, crushing, recycling, backfilling, clearing, and grubbing work,” stated Richard P. Geppert, company president.
Before construction can begin, more than 1.5 million sq. ft. (139,355 sq m) must be demolished and asbestos removed from many of the 17 remaining buildings on the site.
The project has presented challenges even beyond those cited.
“We are also having to deal with tight working conditions in underground steam tunnels, no utilities in the buildings, and the results of the abandonment of the site for 20 years,” Geppert noted.
The company has 20 employees and 50 subcontractors’ workers on site, he added.
Equipment being used by Geppert Bros. Inc. on the Byberry job includes Case 580 backhoes (one with a hammer attachment), which are carrying out site maintenance and erosion control and two Bobcat 753s.
Demolishing and excavating are being handled by a Link-Belt 4300 excavator as well as Komatsu PC22, PC300, and PC400 excavators. In addition, the company is utilizing Volvo EC360 and EC460 excavators. Demolition of the hospital’s multi-story buildings involves American 55-ton (45 t) and Grove RT528 cranes.
Backfilling, demolition, and grading are being performed by three Caterpillar 973 track loaders, a Komatsu WA450 rubber-tired loader, and a Komatsu D32-E1 bulldozer.
An Eagle 1000 crusher and an Eagle Ultramax 1400-45 crusher plant are recycling concrete, while four diesel and water trucks round out the fleet.
The company’s subcontractors include Delta/B.J.D.S of Southampton, Pa., (asbestos abatement); SJA Construction Inc., headquartered in Marlton, N.J., (storm water management); Green Mountain Land Clearing Inc. of Doylestown, Pa. (topsoil stripping, landclearing, and grubbing); and A.E.T. (air monitoring). MP Demolition Inc. of Philadelphia, Pa., is providing administrative services, coordinating meetings, and handling general correspondence and submittals. It will continue to carry out this work for the duration of the project. MP Demolition also is acting as liaison between Geppert Bros. Inc. and its subcontractors, various government agencies, and union representatives.
The privately funded demolition project is slated for completion in May 2007.
About the Company
Founded in 1925 as William A. Geppert Inc., the business was initially based in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pa. Established by the father of its current owners, the company specialized in demolishing major industrial sites. One of its earliest successes was winning one of Philadelphia’s largest contracts, under which it demolished more than 225 city houses. By the early 60s, the business was carrying out numerous significant demolition jobs, including that of the Moyimissing Prison, the former Connie Mack Stadium, and the Liberty Bell Racetrack.
Incorporated in 1960 and now named Geppert Bros. Inc., the company is owned by William A. Geppert Jr., and Richard P. Geppert. It handles demolition projects in the Tri-State area of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey and specializes in the complete demolition of industrial, commercial, and residential properties as well as interior and selective demolition. It also provides clients with excavation, landclearing, and site preparation services and offers equipment rentals and hauling.