A city review board decided yesterday it must hear more testimony before it can make a final ruling on whether to allow the University to demolish historic Smith Hall. The Licenses and Inspection Review Board is considering an appeal of the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Commission's January decision allowing the University to raze the century-old building to make room for a proposed science center. The board yesterday listened to only the opening arguments of lawyers from the Historic Commission, the University and the group of University members and Philadelphia citizens who filed the appeal. The lawyers estimated they would present a total of about five hours of testimony when hearings resume. At the end of the hour-long session, the three lawyers and five board members established two points upon which the case will hinge -- if the demolition is in "the public interest" or if it is necessary because the University would suffer a "financial hardship" otherwise. The Commission's attorney, Maria Petrillo, and an outside lawyer for the University, Joseph Crawford, argued that the Smith Hall site is in the public interest and the best location to build the labs. They said its proximity to the Chemistry and Engineering buildings will allow scientists to "creatively" work together in their research. Crawford also said the labs will bring economic advantages to the area, including construction and maintenance jobs for West Philadelphia residents. The lawyers also said the location will save the University $17 to $23 million because the new building could make use of some current research facilities. They also said the proposed site is important for the University's application for a $10 million Defense Department grant to build the new laboratories. But the appellants' attorney, Alan Kaplan, plans to refute these claims, saying he will show the University did not consider all options in preparing its plans. Kaplan said building the science center, to be called the Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, at another site will not be any more costly. Kaplan also argued that demolishing Smith Hall is not in the public interest because it would destroy a useful and historic building and has no advantages over other sites. The board instructed the three lawyers to determine which facts in the case they agree upon and to eliminate unnecessary arguments before the next hearing to shorten the length of the sessions. University administrators have said the appeal is directed against the Historic Commission, with the University playing only a supporting role in the defense. But Kaplan argued yesterday that the case is actually against the University, and said Commission attorney Petrillo should not be involved in the hearing. The board said they will rule on this issue in a later hearing.Comments powered by Disqus
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