After six months of vacancy, the portion of Alverthorpe Manor that formerly housed the Jenkintown/Settlement Music School is one step closer to having a new tenant.
The Abington Public Affairs Committee last night OK’d a motion to accept the lease for areas of Alverthorpe Manor by Lubavitch of Abington, a local synagogue.
As per the lease, Lubavitch will pay about $19,100 per year, in monthly installments, but the organization will receive an annual credit of $4,000 to offset improvements to the facility.
“The gross annual rent … shall be $19,074, payable in monthly installments … provided that, the amount of annual rent for the first 60 months of the lease term shall be reduced by the amount of $4,000 per year in consideration of restroom improvements, installation of a kitchenette, carpeting and painting, all to be performed by Lessee."
The term in the agreement is for one year starting Aug. 1; the lessee has the option to renew its lease for an additional one-year period, four times.
Commissioner Robert Wachter said the board started discussing the idea of leasing part of Alverthorpe Manor late last year. And Abington Township Manager Michael LeFevre said, “the terms of this lease are much more favorable than that of [Settlement Music School’s lease.]”
Air, plugs and heat
As for keeping the lights on and keeping the place comfortable … the township will be paying for most of that. According to a memo from LeFevre to the board of commissioners, the annual cost for the manor’s utilities is between $52,000 and $62,000 annually. Part of the problem is that there is one central HVAC system for Alverthorpe Manor; it can’t be segmented, LeFevre explained, and tenants are not able to regulate the usage.
Lubavitch did offer to pay $100 per month to help offset the utility costs in good faith, according to the memo.
Commissioner Jay O’Connor was hesitant to agree to the terms with such a small contribution to the cost of utilities.
The religious aspect
LeFevre kicked off the discussion by saying the township’s solicitor, Rex Herder, said it was “perfectly fine” to lease a public building to a religious organization.
Commissioner James Ring, however, said there should be a township policy on renting public land to religious groups; he added that there should be a serious discussion on the issue.
Lubavitch Synagogue member Joseph Gronich said Lubavitch is more than a synagogue, it’s also a community service organization, adding that the organization offers things like classes to residents. He also said that its members live close to Alverthorpe Manor.
“It fosters positive initiatives in the community,” Gronich said. “This has been a bit of a process. We wouldn’t have OK’d it if we didn’t get the go-ahead from the solicitor. That was the message we got, and we moved forward.”
Another member, Alan Grodnitzky, said thinking of it as a separation-of-church-and-state issue is “maybe overstating the issue a bit.”
He added that he is an Abington resident, as are many members of the synagogue, and said that the solicitor clearly said the township has the legal right to lease the building to a religious organization.
Commissioner Dennis Zappone had a clear statement toward the end of the discussion.
“Religious organizations are the foundation of this country,” he said. “Turning our back on religious organizations goes against what I stand for. Let this organization do what they do.”
The Abington Board of Commissioners will meet June 14 at 8 p.m.