The Mount Airy Presbyterian Church will be home to new intergenerational housing. Yet for the congregation it is a welcome relief. Though the edifice located at the corner of Germantown and Mount Pleasant avenues has been sold, the church family will not have to be displaced.
This was a concern about the fate of the church during the past year as the church was up for sale. Among those concerned was Janice Thornton, whose family has worshipped at the church for generations. She serves as an elder and the clerk of sessions at the church. She is the one who coordinates many of the administrative tasks at the church ranging from maintaining the church history to compilation of meeting minutes.
“We do have an influx of changes, but I think that the love will [permeate],” Thornton said. “The ability to do more outreach and have outreach programs are going to help us have new attachments to the community. I hope that with more programs we won’t be limited in what we can do just because we have less space.”
Yet longtime church members may have less to worry about now. The new Wissahickon Village Co-housing is located at 7141 Germantown Ave. The old school building is now being converted into 20 condominiums. It was purchased by Philly Office Retail and the local developer is Ken Weinstein. He offered a tour of the pre-construction site to the community on Tuesday, Nov. 18.
“This project is a win-win because it will allow the church to continue to use the sanctuary while further revitalizing the Mount Airy community,” Weinstein said. “This project will help bring more business to the Mount Airy business district by converting a mostly empty historic building into 20 attractive units. Helping to establish the first co-housing community in Philadelphia is just the cherry on top.”
The church’s musician Amelia Garbisch is very optimistic about the church’s ability to weather the coming transition. She is quick to point out that the church has a Chinese intern, both African and caucasian American members, and are embracing of various musical genres.
“The church loves all different traditions,” Garbisch said. “It is this diversity that makes all in the congregation feel comfortable. I am a member of the local presbytery and when I got married I even married in this church. There’s a great spirit here because all truly feel welcomed. This church can make it through any transition.”
There are some in the community who are also welcoming the renovation of the church. Among them is local resident Elayne Blender. “My husband and I are very excited to move into this co-housing community for our next stage of life. We will be among a group of people who want to share resources and help each other out like good old fashioned neighbors,” Blender said.
The school building was the previous home to ChildSpace Day Care Center. That program previously relocated to the New Covenant Church of Philadelphia’s campus where the old Spring Garden College used to be. The campus is located at 7500 Germantown Ave.
Cohousing offers innovative answers to contemporary environment dilemmas by creating a sustainability and connection community. While the homes are individually owned, the community is designed to encourage interaction and cooperation among residents.
The Wissahickon Village Cohousing was formed in 2010. Its aim was to create a sustainable, accessible and integrated community within existing neighborhoods. They chose to work with Weinstein on this project. The group has 13 active member households that include singles, couples, and families. They are looking for this renovation project to be completed in early 2015.