After a false start four years ago, the Goldenberg Group has started construction on a $100 million student apartment building next to Temple University on the site of the former John Wanamaker Middle School.
The 14-story residence, in the 1100 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue, will add 832 beds for Temple students.
In 2008, the Goldenberg Group, of Blue Bell, outbid others to buy the former school from the Philadelphia School District for $10.75 million.
The original plan was to renovate the school into student apartments, with community space and a charter school for the Bright Hope Baptist Church, which is across the street.
But the recession, combined with a change of heart about the wisdom of renovating the building, led Goldenberg to change its plan.
At a groundbreaking Monday morning, Ken Goldenberg, founder of the company, said there were environmental issues with the shuttered middle school, such as the presence of lead paint and contamination from old transformers in the basement.
Such concerns would have made leasing the building "a bit of a challenge," Goldenberg said.
If the company had gone ahead with the renovation, it would have been able to add 600 beds using two-thirds of the nearly five-acre site, he said.
By demolishing the school, which is more than 50 years old, and building anew, the company will be able to add more apartments using less space. The remaining land, he added, could be developed into retailing or other purposes.
"We loved the old design," Goldenberg said, "but unfortunately it didn't work out."
The project is the third to add much-needed housing for Temple. The university is building a 1,000-bed dormitory on North Broad Street and Mosaic Development Partners of West Philadelphia is finishing construction of Diamond Green Apartments for an additional 350 students near the Temple University train station.
Taken together, the projects will relieve pressure among Temple's rising ranks of students to find housing on or near campus, said Ken Lawrence, a senior vice president of government relations at Temple.
About 10,000 Temple students live around campus, but only half of them are in dorm rooms provided by the university, he said.
That has created flashpoints between students and longer-term residents, said City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, whose district includes Temple.
"This will alleviate some of that," Clarke said.
The project is a collaboration between Goldenberg and the Bright Hope Community Development Corp., the nonprofit economic development arm of the church.
The Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor at Bright Hope, said community members had direct input into the development of the project. The nonprofit, he added, is an equity partner with a 10 percent stake.
Johnson said the church will be able to use income from the project to fund other activities, such as starting a charter school.
Located on the southern edge of campus, the Goldenberg building will sport flashes of Temple red and have 238 apartments for 832 people, ready by the fall of 2014. The company said rents have not yet been determined.