These nonprofits still can't work in their Center City offices thanks to that massive water main break - Generocity Philly

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Jul. 10, 2018 12:55 pm

These nonprofits still can’t work in their Center City offices thanks to that massive water main break

The local arts and culture, counseling and legal communities are stepping up to provide temporary space to displaced tenants of The Philadelphia Building following the July 3 event.

The water main break at Sansom and Juniper streets.

(Photo courtesy of the Leeway Foundation)

This story has been updated with comment from a rep of Goldman Properties, the company that manages The Philadelphia Building. (7/11, 8:45 a.m.)
Update: Tenants received word that the building will reopen on Friday, July 13, at 7 a.m. (7/12, 9:50 a.m.)
Therapy Center of Philadelphia hosts about 350 clients per year at its offices in The Philadelphia Building, 1315 Walnut St.

But since last Tuesday, those offices have been closed, and the week’s appointments have been cancelled or moved to temporary office spaces in the Ethical Society Building near Rittenhouse Square and some private practices. Intake evaluations for new clients have been cancelled, too.

“We are special in that we provide affirming, high quality therapy (which includes Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) for people who have experienced significant trauma) at a very affordable cost,” said Marquita Bolden, a clinical supervisor at the nonprofit, which serves women, transgender and gender nonconforming adults. “We haven’t been able to provide therapy from our main office, where the vast majority of our clients seek treatment, since last Tuesday.”

Therapy Center is one of many victims of the massive July 3 water main break in at Sansom and Juniper streets, when approximately 14 to 15 million gallons of water filled the streets starting around 4 a.m. Thirty to 40 properties were affected, according to the Philadelphia Water Department. Electricity and water have been almost entirely out at The Philadelphia Building since then.

“We are servicing as many clients as we can, but we simply don’t have the same capacity as we typically do at this time,” Bolden said. “Meeting in an unfamiliar space is a disruption to our clients and therapists. One component of successful therapy is consistency, as it offers emotional safety conducive to an environment of healing. So, the disruption and displacement has been significant on our clients and therapists.”

While a rep for Goldman Properties, which manages The Philadelphia Building, said via email they couldn’t share how many nonprofits work out of the building, it houses at least several representing the arts and culture, social justice, counseling and legal communities.

That includes Therapy Center; CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, which serves as a fiscal sponsor and coworking space for smaller arts and culture organizations; Bread & Roses Community Fund; Leeway Foundation; Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA); Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC); and Education Law Center (ELC) and Juvenile Law Center (JLC), which share an office.

"All of this has taken away the attention of our CultureWorkers from actualizing the mission of their organizations."
Jamaine Smith, CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia

CultureWorks is a laptop-based organization, so staffers have been working from home or at coffee shops, and meetings have been conducted via phone or Google Hangouts, said Senior Community Experience Director Jamaine Smith via email.

But his team must also account for its members’ professional wellbeing, and Smith said CultureWorks has been working to update them about the building’s closure and find them alternative work spaces with necessities such as WiFi and printing. That’s involved contacting other coworking spaces to request temporary access for its members or discounted day passes.

However, meetings and events meant to be held in the CultureWorks conference room in the past week have been cancelled, and mail has been diverted to the local post office.

“Our Finance team has been hit the hardest as they are behind on financial processes. We have dozens of fiscally sponsored projects who this effects and are trying to find alternate ways to access our databases and get to work,” Smith said. “All of this has taken away the attention of our CultureWorkers from actualizing the mission of their organizations to trying to make sure operations continue to run smoothly without their usual home base.”

One of those affected CultureWorks members is Rana Fayez, who runs YallaPunk music fest and conference and works out of the coworking space two to three days per week. The second annual fest is scheduled for Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, which means the water main break caught Fayez in the midst of active fundraising.

“Productivity has been down” because of the building’s closure, she said. She can work sometimes from Drexel University, where she teaches media and web development courses, but doesn’t feel that it’s a sustainable option for her. She’s also been relying on friends who offer space and is also considering purchasing a short-term pass for another coworking space.

ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr said the displacement has been a challenge during an otherwise busy time: New staffers and summer interns started last week, and the nonprofit published a legal brief with the Public Interest Law Center on Friday about a lawsuit concerning the funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts in Pennsylvania.

Gordon Klehr said she and JLC Executive Director Susan Vivian Mangold reached out to partners in the Philadelphia legal community asking for temporary shelter — “and we have been so incredibly humbled by the incredible response from the legal community.”

“Pretty much everyone has said, I have a conference space you can use, I have four offices you can use,” she said. “Everyone has been so incredibly generous.”

Other tenants have been working from home or coffee shops, including CultureWorks member and Resolve Philly Executive Director Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, PACDC staff, GPCA staff and Leeway staff.

Leeway has also been working at Pipeline Philly, but “the water main break has caused significant impacts to our workflow and ability to host an important panel process,” wrote Communications Director Denise Beek in an email. “It has also affected our ability to provide space to community partners who count on Leeway’s Community Room for meeting and work space.”

So, when do The Philadelphia Building’s tenants expect to get back in the building for good? Initial estimates had put the return date at this past Monday, then this Wednesday. Then the property manager sent tenants an email on Tuesday morning announcing a possible reopen date of Thursday or Friday, and that power has been restored to most of the building; a Goldman Properties rep confirmed this.

Despite the chaos, though, the building’s staff has earned some kudos from the affected tenants:

“I must give a special thank you to 1315 Walnut’s security team, who has been our main source of information since the break,” Smith said on Monday. “The team has guided folks up one by one to their offices safely and efficiently to retrieve belongings and equipment needed to continue to run their organizations from their offices. Because the building was still out of power, this was all done [by] flashlight. Bravo to them.”

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