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from PlanPhilly (January 2, 2009):

The 200-year-old Georgian structures of brick and wood still stand before ships traveling up the Delaware, the oldest surviving quarantine station in North America. But temporary planks help deteriorating wood columns prop up the sinking porch on the river side of the grand, three-and-a-half-story main building. Abandoned pleasure boats litter the site between the buildings and the water. And a large fire station, catering hall and parking lot block views of the site from the streets of the Essington section of Tinicum.

The site has been owned since 2005 by the township, which reached a settlement with the preservation community during a court battle over construction of the adjacent fire station. As part of the agreement, the Lazaretto Preservation Association of Tinicum Township, a board comprised of three representatives of the township and three from historic preservation organizations, was formed in 2007 and incorporated last June to manage five acres of the site and determine its future.

The preservation association is working on the creation of its bylaws, getting the organization “fully established,” and overseeing completion of a feasibility study for the Lazaretto, explained Paul Steinke, the representative of Preservation Pennsylvania on the board.

The feasibility study, conducted by the international design firm Stantec, explored several alternatives for the main building: residential use, academic use, such as a charter school, or office space. “The most feasible use is commercial office space,” Steinke said. The building “lays out well for that purpose, and that’s what it will probably end up being.”

The ultimate plan will include an interpretive component that explains the story of the Lazaretto, said Steinke, who is general manager of the Reading Terminal Market. “But we determined it is not feasible to use the entire building for that use. There are too many struggling museums” in the region, he said, and “the lessons are clear to everyone. It needs to have some income-producing component to keep it going.”

Larry Tise, a Philadelphia historian and the Wilbur and Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History at East Carolina University, doesn’t agree with the study findings.  “I don’t think office is the best use. It should be a very active use site; it should be available for public activities” and include a large museum component, said Tice.

“I think to consign it to use as an office is to reduce it down to obscurity. We’ve seen too many places converted into office uses, and too frequently that is the end of its public recognition.”