Perks answered call

At the memorial on Saturday for engineer and former Philadelphia official Harry M. Perks, the only recognizable city representative was former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., who provided reflections. I had never met Perks, but knew many of his accomplishments . . .

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A memorial service for Harry M. Perks followed by a luncheon was held Saturday, October 26, at 11AM, at Central Baptist Church, 37 South Jackson Street, Woodbury, NJ. In lieu of other expressions of sympathy, memorial donations can be made to Central Baptist Church.

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Lives Well Lived: Local engineer built career around family

By the time he was 23, Harry M. Perks had his life mapped out. “By then he had his master’s degree in engineering, he was married, he had a kid, a house and a professional job he would hold for the next 30 years,” says Chris Perks, also an engineer and one of Harry Perks’ four sons. “He grew up fast. He was a Tom Brokaw, ‘Greatest Generation’ guy,” Chris added, referring to the former NBC anchor’s seminal book on the World War II generation. Harry Perks was a member of that generation who died Sunday in his Medford home at 85. Postwar, he compiled a resume that would humble most overachievers.

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The man who built Philadelphia – quietly

I wanted to tell you about somebody today. He was the kind of guy more people should know about, especially folks who think everybody in government is corrupt, or lazy, or a cynical burnout holding on for a pension. I doubt you ever heard of Harry Perks, but he did great things for Philadelphia for decades and never wanted or got much credit for of it. He was one of those public servants who does what he does because he loves and believes in it and understands that political b.s is part of the terrain to navigate to get things done, but doesn’t want to be a political player. Harry died Sunday at age 85.

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Harry M. Perks, 85, engineer who supervised many Philadelphia building projects

Harry M. Perks was the guy who got things done.Whether it was supervising the building of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and monitoring its expansion, building new public schools, renovating the library, the zoo and the Academy of Music, building Veterans Stadium, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and myriad other construction projects. Oh, as the city streets commissioner in the 1980s, he coped with Philadelphia’s periodically critical trash-disposal problem. When the convention center was completed on time and on budget in 1993, the late Willard G. Rouse III, then chairman of the center authority, gave full credit to Harry Perks, the executive director. Although famed for his modesty, Harry agreed with Rouse. “My skill is getting the job done,” he said. “Tell me what you want; I’ll get it done.”

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Harry Perks, streets chief

Harry M. Perks, 85, a former Philadelphia streets commissioner who oversaw construction of the Convention Center, died Sunday, Sept. 29, at his home in Medford, after a long illness. Mr. Perks, an engineer who graduated from the Citadel and Yale University, never sought the spotlight but always delivered top-quality work. “Unlike the inflated egos who claim credit for everything that happens in Philadelphia, Perks has been quietly getting very big things done for decades,” former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Dave Davies wrote in 1997. “He may be the most important Philadelphian you never heard of.”

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Harry works, doesn’t want the credit – or the Perks

Philadelphia Daily News

Monday, December 29, 1997, Page 10

Harry who? He’s the man behind practically every thing good

By Dave Davies

For years, Harry Perks has scoffed when I’ve told him I should write a column about him.

But I knew I had to do it a month ago, when I saw Harry at the Convention Center with an employee badge around his neck. More on that later.

I called Harry and told him I was going to write about him and wanted his resume, and there was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Can’t I talk you out of that crap?” he said.

It was vintage Harry, and it’s why you ought to know about this guy.

Unlike the inflated egos who claim credit for everything that happens in Philadelphia, Perks has been quietly getting very big things done for decades. He may be the most important Philadelphian you never heard of.

A short list of some local landmarks this Yale-trained engineer has had a major hand in building includes Veteran’s Stadium, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, about 30 city schools, the Center City commuter tunnel, the Academy of Music, the primate house at the zoo, and the renovation of all 53 libraries in the city.

I knew none of this when I first met Harry in 1985. He was the mild-mannered bespectacled guy who had become Streets commissioner just as the city was descending into trash-disposal hell.

New Jersey had shut the city out of its landfills, and Harry was soon punching the phone in his Municipal Services Building office, frantically calling landfill owners hundreds of miles away, begging for leave to dump a few loads of trash at practically any price. Many wouldn’t even call back.

There were days when the city had used its dumping quota for the day and had to store trash overnight in incinerator pits or transfer stations, even in collection trucks. Besides fighting the garbage-disposal beast, Harry was wrestling the union for control of the Streets Department.

When he invited bids for a long-haul trash contract, hoping someone could take the city’s trash by rail to Ohio landfills, union members jammed hallways to stop bidders from getting in.

They moved the bid-taking to another site, and union boss Earl Stout found his way to the room and called Mayor Goode to try to put a stop to it.

“Mayor Goode deserves the credit,” Perks said of the incident. “He defied Earl Stout and backed us up.”

By 1988, Harry had not only survived the landfill crisis but had agreed with the union on major productivity changes in trash collection – larger trucks, smaller crews, new work rules.

Perks typically credits his partners. “The union did so much for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have survived without them.”

Harry retired again in 1988 and took golf lessons.

But soon enough, the city needed him. The Convention Center project was foundering. There were disputes with Reading over cleaning up PCB’s at the old train shed, squabbles among politicians, and hundreds of other issues.

Perks remembers when Tom Muldoon, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, called him in June 1989.

“He must have called me four times,” Perks said. “I told him I wasn’t interested. Then in August he sent me a set of drawings, and he hit my weakness. I started looking at them, thinking how I could do this or that.”

Soon, Perks was running the Convention Center construction, doing what he knows how to do – guiding a project through the twists and turns and traps of environmental laws, public bidding, minority participation, political opposition and general chaos.

It was sometime during this that I became aware of Harry’s past, of how Richardson Dilworth had called on him to supervise a building program in the School District in the 1960s that was unparalleled before or since. It is the public service Perks is most proud of.

And I learned of his work for Day and Zimmerman on Veteran’s Stadium and the Center City commuter tunnel.

When the Convention Center was done in 1992 on time and on budget, there was a debate over its future management, and some accused Harry behind his back of trying to preserve a job for himself as operations director.

Harry said he had no interest, and when the debate was settled, he left as promised and retired.

But he turns up, again and again, working now for his son Chris’ firm, straightening out construction of the Clef Club on the Avenue of the Arts, managing the massive library renovations, and working on the zoo, the Academy of Music, the new orchestra hall. They all need what Harry knows how to do.

So, back to that day a month ago when I saw Harry with the employee badge at the Convention Center.

He was there because the Convention Center’s crack operations director, Lew Dawley, had left, and the folks who earlier had accused Harry of trying to set up a job for himself had asked him if he would help out as director of operations until they found somebody permanent.

Harry told me he didn’t want any stories about him, that he works best anonymous.

“Why don’t you wait till I retire?” he asked.

Why, Harry, I thought you did.

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Putting up with the convention center’s problems

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Monday, July 2, 1990, Page 1D

By Peter Binzen

From his 28th-floor office at 1101 Market St., Harry M. Perks has a splendid view of the biggest construction project in Philadelphia’s 308-year history.

The view is splendid, but what he sees isn’t. By this time, the site from 11th to 13th Streets, between Arch and Race, should be crawling with workers toiling under contract to the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, of which Perks is executive director.

The authority’s $523.4 million convention center is scheduled to open in January 1993. That’s just 30 months from now.

So far, one contractor, Robert Hawthorne Inc., has excavated most of the site and another, Case  International Co., has sunk footings for foundations. Contracts have been let for underground mechanical and electrical work.

But of $212.5 million in projected “hard” construction costs, only about $11.6 million has been awarded. The site has been cleared of everything except a Reading Co. viaduct, yet it’s hardly a beehive of activity.

What Perks, 62, glimpsed from his office window last week was not the beginnings of “the box,” as everyone calls the convention center, but a bare expanse of good urban earth.

And that burned him up.

“Public-works projects are not as simple as private ones,” Perks, who formerly headed Day & Zimmerman Inc., one of Philadelphia’s largest engineering firms, said with commendable understatement. “It’s amazing how a few people can block them.”

After years of wrangling over money and politics, the Convention Center Authority finally seemed ready to start construction several months ago. Then in May, a coalition of predominantly white male contractors filed a federal court suit against the authority’s minority-contracting  policy. The contractors said the authority’s formula was patterned after the city’s own minority set-aside law that U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle had struck down in April.

The municipal policy was intended to remedy past discrimination by the City of Philadelphia. It set aside specific percentages of city contracts for companies owned by minorities and women. The U.S. Supreme Court barred such remedial quotas in a Richmond, Va. case last year.

In calling for “meaningful and substantial participation” by minorities and women, the authority’s affirmative-action policy makes no mention of set-asides or quotas. It is not remedial in nature but is aimed at making sure that prime contractors don’t discriminate, Perks said.

The authority’s bid specifications set percentage goals based on the differing availability of black and female subcontractors for electrical, plumbing, mechanical and other construction work.

The contractors say the authority’s policy, like the city’s, is illegal and should be thrown out. The authority defends its program, saying it’s based on a state plan that was recently upheld by a federal judge in Harrisburg. Now, black groups are rallying against the contractors. Absent meaningful affirmative action, they have threatened to shut everything down.

The contractors’ case also was assigned to Judge Bechtle. Pending his ruling, the authority is free to go ahead with its work. But Harry Perks, sorely beset on all sides, said the litigation has cast a cloud over the entire project. In an interview last week, he couldn’t conceal his disappointment over the contractors’ suit.

“Jesus, how greedy can you get?” he asked, rhetorically. And of affirmative action’s impact on contractors, he noted: “That’s not going to make or break them.

“I believe our plan is constitutional,” Perks added. “But whether it is or isn’t doesn’t make a difference if [contractors] don’t want an affirmative-action plan.”

He’s especially frustrated by the fact that the convention center means jobs for thousands of Philadelphians and, if it is successful, vastly increased revenues for the city. He views it as strictly a “win-win situation” that ultimately will benefit everybody.
With the affirmative-action plan in trouble, however, the entire project is jeopardized.

“There are no injunctions or restraining orders,” Perks said, “but when you’re in litigation, you move more cautiously.”

On June 14, the authority took bids for about $25 million worth of work. Two bids came in from electrical contractors, three from concrete firms and four each from mechanical and structural-steel contractors.

“I don’t consider that [number of bids] a hell of a lot of interest for a big public project,” Perks said. “I think there’s some evidence people are anxious not to get involved in controversy.”

The bids are now being analyzed. “We don’t feel we got a good response,” Perks said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
And of the project itself, he added: “It’s just not a nice, clean job.”

Perks who was named to the $140,000-a-year post in February, did have promising news concerning the removal of hazardous chemicals from the Reading Terminal train shed.

The shed is to become the convention center’s grand entryway. With its environmental cleanup 22 months behind schedule, the authority and the Reading have been at odds over how much more work needs to be done. It’s a key issue that must be resolved before the city’s purchase of the shed, the Reading Terminal Market and surrounding properties can be completed.

“I think we’ve got it ironed out,” said Perks, who has been pushing hard for resolution of the matter. “The Reading is mobilizing to clean [the train shed] up, and I think the job will be done in five or six weeks. That issue is pretty much behind us.”

Initially, Perks, who previously served as Mayor Goode’s streets commissioner, faced opposition in his bid to fill a 29-month vacancy as the authority’s executive director. Board member Stephen J. Harmelin, a Center City lawyer, as among those who argued that the board should have cast a wider net for candidates.

Now, he’s in Perks’ corner. “I think he’s done a good job under very difficult circumstances,” Harmelin said. “If our society would simply let him do his job, we’d get it up on time and on budget. I wish we were giving him more of a chance to do what we brought him on to do.”

“From my point of view,” said board member David Brenner, who proposed Perks for the job, “he’s been terrific. He’s a good, solid citizen, and he really is unflappable.”

Carl E. Singley, an attorney for the authority, termed Perks “a skillful navigator” who has done “a superb job” dealing with the political, legal and technical obstacles.

Perks is no stranger to controversy. He was key operative at the School District of Philadelphia during its most tumultuous period. That was from 1966 to 1969, when Mark. R. Shedd was the very progressive and controversial superintendent of schools while former Mayor Richardson Dilworth was the reform-minded, hard-charging board president.

As deputy superintendent for administrative services, Perks was responsible for “everything but instruction.” He presided over a $300 million school building spree and would have stayed on the job if the voters had not killed the program by rejecting a key bond issue.

His eyes light up as Perks reminisces about the irrepressible Dilworth. “There was nobody like him,” he said. “As a leader, he was second to none. Once he picked you, you felt protected. You didn’t have to play political games or worry about who your friends were because you had the only friend who was important.”

Leaving the school district, Perks returned to Day & Zimmerman, where he served as president for seven years and gained an equity interest in the company.

In this period, he struck it rich. “Between 1976 and 1983,” he said, “I made more money than I thought was humanly possible.”

Taking early retirement, he sold his stock and went to golf school. He soon grew restive, however. By this time, his close friend, Richard C. Gilmore, who had worked with him at the school district, had become city finance director. Perks told Gilmore he wouldn’t mind being streets commissioner.

“On Thanksgiving Day 1984,” said Perks, “I got a call from Mayor Goode. Imagine – Thanksgiving Day. This guy works all the time.” One thing led to another and in February 1985, Perks was sworn in as boss of the streets. He stayed in the $55,000-a-year job until September 1988 and received generally high marks for his efforts.

Perks remembers them as “three great years.”

And of Wilson Goode, the city’s much-maligned chief executive, he says: “I think he’s the most underrated mayor this city has ever had. I don’t understand why they’re on this guy’s butt. In my opinion, he’s about as good a mayor as you can dream up. A high moral threshold. No patronage. An excellent agenda. Picks outstanding people. I have a hard time faulting him in any way.”

As Harry Perks tells it with a smile, “divine providence” has played a big part in his own life. Consider his plight in 1948. He was 20 and fresh out of the Navy. His wife, Gladys, was pregnant with the first of their four sons. Perks registered at Drexel Institute of Technology, thinking to study there under the G.I. Bill of Rights. But that hope was dashed by an increase in his apartment rent from $20 a month to $90.

With such a stiff charge, there was no way Perks could attend college. He gave up the idea and started looking for a job. Then, by “divine providence,” a letter from his wife’s cousin in Florida just happened to tell of a college in South Carolina where veterans’ housing could be gotten for $21 a month.

Perks took a train to Charleston, rented an apartment at that figure, enrolled at The Citadel and, with the GI bill paying his expenses for 36 months, went on to graduate first in his class in the school of engineering.

From The Citadel he went to Yale on a full scholarship for graduate work. And then to a brilliant career at Day & Zimmerman, starting in 1952.

“Divine providence” helped, Perks says. He could use some of it now.

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Mr. Trash

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Monday, June 9, 1986, Page 1C

Picking Up After Philadelphia

By Michael Capuzzo, Inquirer Staff Writer

The sun comes up over his Philadelphia, shining on his 25,000 city blocks, his 500 bridges, his fleet of 1,000 trucks, on the grim countenance of Harry M. Perks himself, who is rushing across JFK Boulevard, unhappy this morning with his empire, happy – at least – that nobody recognizes him as lord of this and all the streets.

Perks is the streets commissioner, boss of all the signs and streetlights on them, all the utility lines under them, all the bridges over them, of every inch of sidewalk under his feet.

But Perks, alas, is boss of the potholes and uncollected garbage as well, and the sun has come up over Philadelphia on another one of those days he wishes it hadn’t, to reveal 1,500 tons of garbage rotting in the streets, rumors of war over trash in Fishtown and hostile TV reporters pounding on the commissioner’s door.

It is 9:30 a.m. on a typical day in the life of Philadelphia’s top garbage man, and Harry Perks’ crisis is growing worse by the minute. Crisis is a word Perks orders up a dozen times a day, coolly, calmly, a cucumber of a word – “We’ve got a crisis here. No, that was yesterday’s crisis.” But Harry Perks is especially calm this morning. His conversation has not yet turned, as it tends to do when he is pressed about Philadelphia’s garbage, to black- humor metaphors of suicide and death.

“It’s a terrible problem,” he says, going up in a City Hall elevator to Councilwoman Joan Specter’s office to answer questions about the crisis. ”People are putting out trash faster than I can dispose of it. It’s the biggest crisis I face. It’s a no-win job.”

So why in heck did Harry M. Perks, 58, mild-mannered civil engineer, former corporate president, retiree, married to the same woman for 40 years, father of four sons and financially set for life, throw over golfing and sailing a year and a half ago to look for places to throw Philadelphia’s trash?

Why, Harry, why?

Money? He certainly made more than the streets commissioner’s $55,000 a year as president of Philadelphia’s Day & Zimmermann, an international engineering firm with 7,000 employees. Fame? Perks says he has spent a lifetime being a “low-profile” engineer and is unnerved by the 2 a.m. phone calls from the media, the beeper calling him out of weddings and movie houses, the TV lights and hostile questions that give him anxiety attacks. Harry, why? No time to talk. Harry Perks is rushing to City Hall to face questions he is paid to answer each morning:

Why are garbage piles growing up in the Northeast, Harry, and rats and dogs feasting? Why is Fishtown almost rioting to get garbage collected? What are you doing about sanitation workers under investigation, the Streets Department, in the words of one investigator, “out of control”?

Harry Perks doesn’t have all the answers. He looks up to a politically troubled mayor, down to a much-maligned work force and straight in the eye of a problem that no city has solved. Which, of course, was everything Harry Perks wanted when he accepted Mayor Goode’s appointment to manage the Streets Departments’ 3,500 employees and $145 million budget. Why, Harry?

“There isn’t much time,” he says.

It is 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning – last Wednesday morning – and Harry Perks is dialing his black phone, trying to find somewhere to throw out Philadelphia’s trash. Next to it sits another black phone, which he never dials.

“That phone is the hotline. When that rings, I drop everything. It means it’s him (James S. White, the city’s managing director) personally on the line wanting to talk to me at that moment. It’s not often he wants to talk to me personally at that moment. Only during a crisis – about twice a week.”

The week’s crisis hasn’t been all over the news, like the crisis one April weekend when Perks had to authorize $400,000 in sanitation workers’ overtime to catch up, but from his seat in the Municipal Services Building, it looks like the worst crisis since he has become streets commissioner. The irony is only his to savor.

“I have a crisis every day nobody knows about. Recently, we had a tractor- trailer go off the road. The pin hooking the tractor to the trailer broke off. We inspected the trucks, and they were all in imminent danger of the same failure. We had 70 trucks out of service all weekend, and nobody even knew it. I count my blessings when nobody notices.”

These last two weeks, the crises crowded in on Harry Perks. An incinerator broke down. The paving of U.S. 322 in Chester County slowed the city’s trucks to Lanchester Landfill to a crawl. Four new Navistar tractor-trailers came over the hill to save the failing fleet, and two of the new trucks went down, leaking fluids. Worst of all, it was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. Philadelphians were spring cleaning, gardening, throwing out dirt and garden hoses and old refrigerators. The city, which produces 2,800 tons of trash a day in February, and usually soars to 3,600 tons in May, disgorged 4,200 tons a day for a week following Memorial Day.

The six giant “pits,” where the garbage sits briefly until it is burned in two city incinerators or hauled to three landfills as distant as Baltimore, filled to overflowing. Trucks waited in line to dump, and didn’t pick up.

Last Monday, there were 140, six-ton loads of trash still on the streets, left over from Friday. By Monday night, it was 160 loads. By Tuesday, 260 loads. When Harry Perks came to work Wednesday morning, his city was like a big dog choking on a bone.

But Perks doesn’t have time for all that.

10:15 A.M. A top city administrator wants Perks’ evaluation of the morning’s headlines: South Philadelphia is rallying to fight to the death again to stop Mayor Goode’s proposed trash-to-steam plant. Perks listens for more than half an hour. “There are only four or five people I answer to. When one of them is on the phone, I talk as long as they want to talk.”

10:58 A.M. The Commerce Department calls. A foreign manufacturer wants an audience for his miracle plan for garbage disposal – pyrolosis, cooking garbage at high temperatures without oxygen to produce gas and oil and carbon. Perks has heard about this miracle before. “It’s theoretically possible,” he says, but unproved. “We’ll talk to anyone about trash. But it’s a one-in-a-million shot.”

11:05 A.M. A phone call from a landfill. Can it handle 100 packed trucks a day for seven days, Harry Perks asks, “so I can dig my way out of it?” Doubtful.

“I’d slash my wrists,” he said recently, “if I didn’t think there was enough greed in the world to find somebody to take Philadephia’s trash.”

Do we have a crisis yet?

The headline from Waste Age magazine taunts Perks from his desk. The magazine has sat there for three weeks. He hasn’t had time to read it. ”Philadelphia is a fine case in point,” the story says. “Without a plant or a landfill, the city is in constant trash turmoil. . . . ”

Sometimes, Harry Perks feels like a hurricane forecaster who can only issue warnings, with even less understanding of the gathering storm. He can’t control all 2,400 of his sanitation workers. He can’t control the unions, the City Council, the environmental groups, the whims of out-of-state landfills. He can’t control the development of technology. He can only study all the blips on the screen and guess. He checks the weather. He looks at the holiday calendar. And each morning he looks out from his office window, eight stories above the nation’s fourth-largest city, and envisions more than a million people scraping coffee grinds and egg scraps and putting out old sofas, and hopes it will add up to 5,000 tons fewer than last week.

This is the science it comes down to: “Maybe it will be less this week,” he says, “because it was big last week.

“I only know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The nightmare is we’ll get shut out of one of our disposal locations and we’ll tell people, ‘Don’t put your trash out. We can’t handle it.’ ”

Harry Perks is sitting over a club sandwich and iced tea on the 19th floor of One Penn Center, at an Urban Club dining room, big-boned, 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, distinguished-looking in his pressed olive suit, horn-rim glasses, nervously folding and unfolding a corner of the green-and-white place mat.

He skips lunch all but twice a month. He says the pressures are not getting to him.

“Nothing creates more pressure than profit and loss,” he says. “You make mistakes in the business world and millions are at stake.” Fold, unfold. Fold, unfold.

Why did you do it, Harry?

“I was naive,” he says. “I thought I could accomplish something.”

Before he took on Philadelphia’s trash, Harry Perks was an American success story. He was born the son of a New Jersey printer, who died when Harry was 3. When nobody else in his family went to college, Harry Perks got a bachelor’s degree from the Citadel Military College of South Carolina, then a master’s in civil engineering from Yale University. He worked his way from draftsman to president of Day & Zimmermann. He was wooed to public service in the ’60s, as an administrator building 40 new Philadelphia city schools, part of the “Ivy Mafia” reformers who cleaned up the school system.

Sometimes, Harry Perks gets down, realizing that he is risking his record as a doer of the undoable, his squeaky-clean reputation in the dirtiest of jobs. “The noose is tightening,” he said recently.

But a chance to make a bigger impact than even a corporate president, to ”benefit far more people,” keeps him going. Philadelphia’s garbage is the biggest challenge of Harry Perks’ career.

“Trash disposal is one of the biggest jobs facing the country,” he says. ”Think about it. I was intrigued. I was intrigued the way a doctor would be intrigued by an epidemic. I’m an engineer, and I thought I could contribute. I still think I can contribute. That’s what keeps my enthusiasm up.”

1:33 P.M. Back at the office. Perks smiles nervously at his secretary. ”Take a deep breath,” he says to himself.

A Channel 3 camera crew blows in, rearranging chairs. Harry Perks blinks and sweats into a TV lamp.

Enter reporter Tia O’Brien.

“Well, commissioner, doomsday for trash in Philadelphia.”

She sounds like a prosecutor. Harry gets defensive. “These kinds of things go on all time,” he says of the Fishtown demonstration.

“If it (a trash-to-steam plant proposal) doesn’t get introduced in the next couple of weeks,” he tells her, “I’ll dive out that window.”

“That would be a national story, commissioner. . . . Are you sure,” she asks, “you want this job?”

Later, Harry’s wife, Gladys, calls. She’s been shopping for antique furniture for their new condo. Harry Perks’ voice softens. “Bye, Peaches,” he says. He cracks his first smile of the day.

3 P.M. He is driving a 1981 black Ford Fairmont, the commissioner’s car, to inspect the pits at the East Central Incinerator, at Spring Garden Street and Delaware Avenue.

“I think I have the right tools and the background,” he is saying, “but fact is, I haven’t solved it and fact is, I may not solve it, and that would be terribly disappointing to me.”

He stares into the great roaring pit by the Delaware River, a vast opening 100 feet across and 40 feet high, overflowing with garbage bags, TV sets, air conditioners, old newspapers, egg cartons, the rotten fruit and hellish stench of Harry Perks’ empire. Giant crane mouths slowly lift the trash into the inferno, making but a tiny dent in the mountain. Trucks are waiting, waiting to dump.

“Oh, God,” Harry Perks says softly, his voice lost in the crane’s dinosaur roar, “that’s depressing.”

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Commissioner Is Off The Streets

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Wednesday, September 14, 1988, Page 1B

Perks Found Turmoil In Office But Praise At End

By Robin Clark, Inquirer Staff Writer

Maybe the best a city streets commissioner can hope for is anonymity.

If the job goes well – if trash is collected, streets swept, potholes filled and snow plowed – the chances are that few people outside government will ever know who runs the city’s second-largest bureaucracy.

Obscurity, however, was a luxury unknown to the retiring streets commissioner, Harry M. Perks.

His 3 1/2-year tenure was marked by labor strife, public criticism, political turmoil and a series of well-publicized trash crises that made Philadelphia a national example of how not to solve a problem – and made Perks practically a household name.

Nonetheless, Perks, 60, left his post yesterday having won the admiration and affection of his peers and the grudging respect even of some department critics.

Although he lost the battle over trash-to-steam, he bought the city time to seek another solution, negotiating a landfill contract that should stabilize the city’s disposal system for the next six years.

He increased the department’s street-cleaning efforts and worked to curb the spread of illegal neighborhood dumps. He improved labor relations, which had been blamed for many of the department’s problems, and shortly before announcing his retirement this summer, he helped win sweeping changes in union work rules that will allow his successor to streamline department operations. Former Fairmount Park Commision director Alexander L. Hoskins is replacing him.

“I’ve seen seven or eight commissioners, and . . . (Perks is) the best, no questions asked,” said Bruce Gledhill, a 17-year Streets Department veteran who was named last year as deputy commissioner in charge of sanitation.

Said Water Commissioner William J. Marrazzo, another fan: “On the labor- relations front, he will be leaving one heck of a legacy. He has laid a foundation that is so strong it would be difficult not to build on it.”

Environmental lawyer Jerome Balter, a frequent critic of the city’s sluggish recycling program and the administration’s pursuit of trash-to-steam, faulted Perks for being “too much the engineer and not enough the policy developer.” In the push for trash-to-steam, Balter said, Perks often lacked sensitivity to political considerations and to public-health concerns raised by environmentalists and neighborhood activists.

On the whole, though, Balter praised Perks as “a concerned civil servant who tried to do the best under difficult circumstances.”

Perks, a former president of engineering giant Day & Zimmerman, came out of retirement to take the Streets Department job in February 1985. He didn’t need the money, he said, but relished the challenge to solve the trash problem, which had been mounting since New Jersey’s Kinsley Landfill closed a year earlier.

Perks, however, was quickly sidetracked by other problems.

Two weeks after his appointment, he was hit by a wildcat strike that halted trash collection. Perks got the trash trucks rolling again, but only after rehiring a laborer who had been fired over the protests of union boss Earl Stout.

“How can I accomplish anything when I can’t even run my own operation?” Perks said at the time, lamenting the hold that the union, District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had on his department.

It was the first of many such frustrations.

Critics accused Perks of violating the city residency rule, noting that although the commissioner had rented an apartment on Rittenhouse Square, he continued to maintain his family home in Medford, N.J.

In April 1986, a state grand jury reported “widespread bribery” of Streets Department workers by private haulers seeking access to city dump sites.

Even the weather seemed to have it in for Perks. Caught off guard by a January 1987 snowstorm that stranded motorists for hours, Perks and other city officials later had to explain a union practice that allowed snowplow operators to collect overtime even while they were sleeping.

“At the height of some of those crises, you feel like the only alternative is to disappear,” he said later.

Perks received highest praise for improving labor relations. After the 1985 wildcat strike, he made a deputy commissioner of Frank “Doc” Bowman, the only streets supervisor who had not participated in the walkout. It was the first of several moves Perks made to assert his authority. The most dramatic step was the January 1987 arrests of a nine-member street-cleaning crew on charges of flagrantly shirking their duties. Theft charges filed against the crew members were later dismissed in court.

“Harry was as uncomfortable as I was with those charges,” said Joseph Bloom, the city’s labor-relations chief, “but he was at an absolute loss. He had been trying to kick some butt around here, and management was abrogating its responsibility to the union.”

In the end, Bloom said, it was not Perks’ toughness but his honesty, compassion and flexibility that turned the tide with the union.

“He understood that to be an instrument for change, he had to have cooperation from the unions, and he just worked so hard at that relationship, he turned it around,” Bloom said. “If he had bad news to deliver, he called them in and delivered it eyeball to eyeball. There wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body, and he had a way of understanding the other guys’ position.”

A representative of the union was not available for comment.

Perks’ biggest disappointment, of course, was not solving the trash crisis, his stated mission. Critics give Mayor Goode most of the blame for losing the trash-to-steam battle in City Council, but it was Perks who took many of the lumps. With no reliable way to dispose of 3,200 tons of residential trash each day, he seemed to lurch from one emergency to the next.

Landfills barred their gates or raised their prices. The governor of South Carolina urged his citizens to send their trash to Philadelphia in retaliation for shipments of Philadelphia waste. The epic voyage of the Khian Sea, which is still wandering the globe with its unwanted cargo of Philadelphia incinerator ash, made the city a metaphor for the nation’s growing waste- disposal dilemma.

“I don’t think anyone appreciates how hard Harry worked just to keep us out of crisis,” said Nicholas DiBenedictis, who first dealt with Perks as the state’s top environmental regulator and later as head of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. “I talked to him a number of times when he was on the phone trying to figure out where the next day’s trash was going. Had he not been as good a crisis manager, we might have had a much bigger black mark against us.”

Though Perks regarded the demise of trash-to-steam as a “personal failure,” few blame him for failing to solve the city’s trash crisis. Instead, most people give him credit for sticking things out when others might have quit the job and returned to golf course.

Moreoever, Perks’ colleagues said they will miss the charm, wit and candor he brought to the button-down world of city government.

“That phone is the hotline,” he told an office visitor once, in a typical aside. “It only rings during a crisis – about twice a week.”

It was the same dark humor that enabled him to laugh off the wildcat strike that greeted his arrival, saying, “They didn’t even let me get my damn seat warm.”

“You can disagree with him, you can criticize his department,” said Deputy Mayor Marjorie H. Adler, “but there’s something the matter with you if you don’t like Harry Perks. He is an absolutely superb human being, a prince, and not in the Machiavellian sense.”

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Medford man oversees project


May 26, 1999

By EILEEN SMITH, Courier-Post Staff


The apes at the Philadelphia Zoo’s new Primate Reserve mightbe man’s closest relative in the animal kingdom, but they have nohead for figures.

Neither do many humans. That is why project managers evolved — professionals who keep the job on track, from the first stroke of the conceptual drawings to the last stroke of the paint brush.

“We do just about anything you can imagine regarding a largeproject,” said Harry Perks, principal of Perks Reutter Associates,the Cherry Hill firm overseeing the reserve. “Except we leave he buying of the animals to the zoo people.”

Perks Reutter began work on the 2.5-acre habitat in the strategic phase, almost immediately after the devastating Christmas Eve blaze in 1995 that killed 23 primates. Since then, the firm has re-estimatedt he cost of the reserve — now $24 million — three times. And when the budget grew too much, Perks Reutter pruned costs by cutting back landscaping.

“Most of our projects are a combination of public and private finance,” Perks said. “That makes things interesting.”

It is that expertise that most impressed Alexander “Pete” Hoskins, the zoo’s president.

“A job of this magnitude needs somebody making certain things go the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “Harry is especially skilled at meeting the requirements of both the state and the city.”

Traditionally, the zoo has managed its own projects, such as a $1 million renovation of the reptile house. But the primate reserve is such a huge undertaking, Hoskins was concerned there would be delays in construction without someone to monitor the building process.

“This project was done on time and on budget — which is amazing when you consider its complexity,” he said.

Although he maintains a low public profile, Perks has long been associated with some of the city’s most famous facades. The Medford resident is best known for serving as executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center throughout construction of the $523-million project. He is now steering renovations at the Academy of Music, the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Water Works.

Perks was eager to take on the zoo project because it is on the cutting edge of animal exhibits worldwide. Improvements on the destroyed primate house include a fire prevention and evacuation system, in addition to an advanced heating and cooling system.

At the zoo, Perks Reutter developed a budget to execute the design for the sprawling habitat, an abandoned timber mill which suggests a rain forest reclaimed by the apes. Consultants worked on site to identify and correct problems that might cause cost overruns.

For example, the roof of the primate reserve is a complicated structure and took longer to complete than expected, noted Chris Perks, son of Harry and president of Perks Reutter. So the contractor decided to work extended hours to keep the project on track.

Some events even the most experienced project managers can’t anticipate.

“The penguins were next door to this project and it kind of interfered with their lives,” said Chris Perks. “So we had to move them.”

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15 On The Spot

Philadelphia Daily News

January 29, 1993, Page 4

The Most Stressful Jobs in Philadelphia

By  Staff writers Jenice Armstrong, Stu Bykofsky, Kitty Caparella, Joseph R. Daughen, Rose DeWolf, Tom Di Nardo, Scott Flander, Ellen Gray, Harriet Lessy, Nels Nelson, Kathleen Shea, Jonathan Takiff and Anthony Twyman contributed to this report.

So you think you’ve got pressures? Check out these people in our 2nd annual look at serious stress.

They’re in the hot seat this year. They’re going to make it or break it. And how they cope will involve us all in some way – our attention, our emotions, our dough.


Who he is: Executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

Turning Point: Perks, 64, is a driving force behind getting the convention center built on schedule.

What has to happen this year: The convention center exhibit hall must open in June to accommodate the first group scheduled to use the facility July 26.

Why the outcome is important: Perks’ reputation as a can-do guy is on the line. He’s scheduled to retire this year and wants to leave knowing he has accomplished the job he set out to do.

The odds for success: Good. The exhibit hall is close to 90 percent completed, and grand-opening ceremonies are expected near the end of June.



Who they are: Former U.S. attorney and former Maine attorney general, respectively. Both were appointed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr. to investigate allegations about members of the state Supreme Court.

Turning point: In November, Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen filed court documents alleging wrongdoing by two other justices – Stephen A. Zappala and Ralph J. Cappy – who’d voted to reprimand him.

What has to happen this year: Dennis and Tierney must try to establish the truth or falsity of Larsen’s unprecedented allegations, and take appropriate action. They aim to complete the probe by September.

Why the outcome is important: To restore public confidence in the state’s highest court in the wake of Larsen’s charges that two members are “fix
artists,” and counter-charges that Larsen himself is unstable.

The odds for success: Excellent. Dennis’ and Tierney’s reputations are so impeccable, and the court is held in such low esteem, that virtually any action the two men take will be greeted with applause.


Who he is: New president of the Board of Education.

Turning point: His election at age 43 made him the board’s youngest president, and although he’s the third African-American to hold the job, the election of Floyd Alston as vice president gives the board its first all-black leadership.

What has to happen this year: Lee and the board must find a way to reduce school violence. His succession to the presidency occurred amid a flurry of incidents involving weapons, including the first shooting inside a Philadelphia public school.

Why the outcome is important: The welfare and education of 190,979 schoolchildren depend on it.

The odds for success: Fair. Lee’s known for his political savvy; he’s also the first board president in a long time to have children in the school system, giving him a big stake in this issue. Still, the problems that end in blood in school hallways don’t start at School District headquarters.


Who she is: An epidemiologist on loan to the city’s Department of Health
from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Turning point: She’s responsible for coordinating a comprehensive effort to work towards eradicating violence in Philadelphia by the year 2000.

What has to happen this year: She needs to gather the plans of varied sectors – educational, academic, criminal justice, religious – and coordinate them, devise a strategy and put it into action.

Why the outcome is important: Violence, particularly among youth, continues to threaten the health, future, livelihood and lifestyle of city residents.

The odds for success: Several experts dismiss eradicating violence by 2000 as unrealistic. But Onwuachi-Saunders’ years of study, the cooperation of some local experts, her sheer tenacity and concern as a mother of two boost her chances of at least gathering the city’s hodgepodge of resources and cooking up a strong strategy to address violence.


Who he is: City Human Services Commissioner, heading the department that cares for abused and neglected children and teen-agers.

Turning point: During City Council committee hearings in November, Levine came under attack by some Council members for stating that he doesn’t talk much to his staff. That admission fueled general dissatisfaction on Council with his slow progress in improving DHS operations.

What has to happen this year: Even Mayor Rendell conceded in his budget message that management of the department has not been good. As the Rendell administration struggles to bring DHS’ runaway costs under tighter control, both the mayor and Council will expect Levine to run a tighter ship.

Why the outcome is important: DHS is the third most expensive department in city government. Besides the cost issue, the quality of care provided to thousands of dependent children is of great concern to Council, advocates.

The odds for success: Depends on city’s ability to get more money from state and Levine’s ability to better articulate his vision for the department.


Who he is: The longest running act in Philadelphia television anchorage.

Turning point: When he came to be seen as an expensive thorn in the side of hard-driving, quick-firing WCAU general manager Gene Lothery, who blew into town three years ago with a mandate from CBS to get the Channel 10 news operation off the distant-second ratings dime.

The story so far: Kane let it be known in December he was seeking asylum at distant-third KYW as occasional correspondent and host of a new prime time news magazine. WCAU saw no apparent threat in allowing Kane to start work months before the “no compete” clause in his contract expired. Kane debuted at Channel 3 on Jan. 5, with the swearing-in of Congress. He has since reported on the U.S. bombing of Iraq and the inauguration. He’ll do his first ”Issue Tonight” segment, on domestic violence, on the post-Super Bowl newscast Sunday night.

What’s supposed to happen this year: The magazine is to debut sometime in mid-summer. Premiere date, show name, and time/day slots still up the air.

Odds for success: Industry watchers are skeptical the audience is there for a locally produced mag in a world already armpit deep in slick, network- produced jobs.

What the smart money thinks: Though Kane has denied it, industry sources speculate that struggling KYW will expect further return on its investment. Prediction: Look for Larry in the anchor chair before the year is out.


Who he is: Program director of WXPN, the non-commercial adult alternative radio station based at the University of Pennsylvania.

Turning Point: Having evolved a disjointed, fringe-interest, amateurishly- run radio station into a fine-tuned, professionally staffed, left of center alternative to commercial album rock radio with broad appeal, Morrison faces his first real challenge from WDRE, the new modern rock station at 103.9 FM.

What’s going to happen here: Younger and less committed listeners are sampling ‘DRE and liking the playlist. Some musicians, nightclubs and record labels that had been begging ‘XPN for attention are now playing ball with the new rival, too. If ‘XPN tightens up its playlist to compete head to head, it will dismay an older core audience. Morrison’s only option: play to his strengths, promote the quicker folk, blues and rock that ‘DRE won’t touch.

Why the outcome is important: In formulating its Adult Alternative Progressive Rock blend, and syndicating its daily “World Cafe” show, WXPN has set itself up as a model for survival of public radio stations nationwide.


Who he is: President of the Philadelphia Zoo.

Turning point: Last month’s naming of Hoskins, former Streets Commissioner, to replace revered president William V. Donaldson, who died in November of 1991. Hoskins, only two weeks on the job, inherited a fragile fiscal situation intensified by the city’s 1991 deletion of an annual $746,000 grant.

What has to happen this year: Increase attendance from the 1.3 million plateau of the last few years, and increase the 40,000 family memberships. Decrease $400,000 deficit. Complete plans and begin fund-raising for essential animal-care and research facility. Complete plans for longer-term Donaldson Educational Center, which will stress wildlife conservation and environmental preservation and make zoo more visitable year-round.

Why the outcome is important: America’s first zoo is the most-visited site in the city and a source of civic pride. Its attraction should be stressed as both a must for convention-goers and a standard attraction for regional residents.

Mitigating factors: Better weather than 1992, which had the worst weekend precipitation in many years.

The odds for success: Very high.


Who they are: Eagles front-office tandem of owner Norman Braman, team president Harry Gamble.

Turning point: Jan. 6, the day NFL owners and players association shook hands on agreement that liberalized free agency.

What has to happen this year: Eagles desperately need to re-sign star defensive end Reggie White, which many feel won’t be easy. If White departs, look for other veterans to consider bolting as soon as their contracts expire. Further, Braman needs to demonstrate he will pay competitive money for other free agents, and Gamble and his people need to have a plan about which free agents will best put Braman’s money to use.

Why the outcome is important: Those playoff losses have ended seasons on bad notes, but just think back to those Marion Campbell years.

The odds for success: Gamble says the Eagles will surprise people; the people seem to say, “Prove it.”


Who he is: Wes Chamberlain, Phillies rightfielder.

Turning point: Could be first day of preseason.

What has to happen this year: After showing up for training camp last year in less than tip-top shape and having an injury-plagued season, Chamberlain must establish himself as the starting rightfielder.

Why the outcome is so important: Chamberlain has had chances before. This year, it figures, he either becomes a key starter for the next six to eight seasons or finds himself looking for another ballclub.

The odds for success: A quick glimpse at Chamberlain (Wes, not Wilt) at a recent Sixers game revealed what appeared to be a trim athlete. Another factor in Wes’s favor: He doesn’t lack confidence.


Who he is: In Philadelphia and all of Canada, Young Mr. Hockey.

Turning point: The day last year arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi unraveled a mess that only could happen in the National Hockey League and awarded Lindros to the Flyers.

What has to happen this year: That knee needs to fully heal and Lindros needs to steer clear of off-ice controversy.

Why the outcome is important: The Snider family will give you 21 million reasons why. Not to mention the 20,000 or so seats in the arena the Sniders still hope to build.

The odds for success: The headlines off the ice would seem to diminish as Lindros’s age increases (he turns 20 next month). Also, when healthy, Lindros has been as good as advertised.


Who he is: Villanova basketball coach.

Turning point: The April Fool’s Day last year that longtime coach Rollie Massimino headed west.

What has to happen this year: Right now a win, any win, would help. Losing seven consecutive Big East games won’t win any converts on the Main Line.

Why the outcome is important: Lappas needs to keep the results respectable, particularly as Wildcats fans watch Massimino’s UNLV team climb the polls and waffle ‘Nova’s rival, Georgetown, on national TV.

The odds for success: Prospect is bleak this year, but Lappas will start to inject program with players he has recruited. Probably needs to land one of area’s top two big men, Gratz’s Rasheed Wallace or Olney’s Jason Lawson, to breathe easier.


Who is he: CEO of Spectacor and President of The Flyers. He’s also the second-born son of Ed, the Daddy of all the Snider Family action. Jay and partner, on their own, started SpectaGuardin ’80, now a $40-or-so-million-a year venture.

Turning Point: Announcement last year that a new Spectrum would be built in Philly.

Why is it important: Ego and money. They’ve made money at The Spectrum. They can make even more in a bigger arena.

The odds for success: Once built . . . and that’s the rub . . . it should do as well. While everyone says he’s no Ed, he is a Wharton School graduate, who seems comfortable away from the main stage.

But, financing the arena in today’s economy is harder than getting fans out to see the Sixers. Insiders say the Sniders are finally realizing this may not be the cash cow they envisioned. The family will have to deal from a less powerful position than they are used to to get this baby built.


PHOTO (14)

1. Harry M. Perks
2. Edward Dennis
3. James Tierney
4. Rotan Lee
5. Chukwudi Onwuachi-Saunders
6. Theodore Levine
7. Larry Kane
8. “Pete” Hoskins
9. Norman Braman
10. Harry Gamble
11. Wes Chamberlain
12. Eric Lindros
13. Steve Lappas
14. Jay Snider

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Expansion’s certain but cost isn’t; Question of funding for a larger Convention Center lingers

Philadelphia Daily News

February 1, 2006

Page 15


There’s no designated funding yet to pay for the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center – and no one can say for sure how much it will cost – but owners of 27 properties in its path got legal notice in the last two weeks that the Commonwealth is coming.

The expansion will cover two square blocks and extend the Convention Center to the east side of Broad Street between Arch and Race streets. It is scheduled to open in 2009.

Over the next two months, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority will follow up on its notices of interest by sending appraisers to each property bordered by 13th, Broad, Arch and Race streets. Then, the haggling will begin as some property owners, with their own appraisals in hand, are expected to contest the RDA’s valuation of their parking lot, carwash or office building.

Meanwhile, Convention Center officials are gathering data for an operating plan, a cost estimate for construction and a financing plan.

“We are trying to figure out the cost and the revenue in today’s dollars,” said Convention Center president Al Mezzaroba.

And consultants to the Convention Center Authority are completing analysis of the expansion’s anticipated economic benefit.

“This is multitasking. We don’t have the luxury of doing this step-by-step,” said Michael J. Masch, state budget secretary. “We hope that everything we are doing converges at the right moment.”

A reason for the urgency is the increase in Center City real-estate values. A Convention Center study in 2000 estimated that site acquisition and related costs could total $103 million. Today, experts say that figure has doubled.

The complete expansion project, including land acquisition and construction, is pegged at $632 million – at least.

How it will be paid for must be resolved. State law authorizes up to $400 million to be spent, and limits the state’s contribution to no more than three-quarters of the pro-ject’s cost. By that calculation, the project can be no more than $533 million. Another source must match at least 25 percent of the state’s financial commitment.

“We are attempting to determine where the match comes from,” said Masch. “The entire plan for expansion has not yet been written – what it looks like and who will pay the bills.”

Gov. Rendell said in an October press release that “ultimately the $632 million expansion cost is to be paid for with state gaming revenue.” His statement raises the question of whether the Legislature will lift the 75 percent funding cap.

Complicating matters is that Mayor Street has said the city should no longer shoulder the $15 million annual operating deficit of the current center. But City Councilman Michael Nutter, who chairs the Convention Center Authority, said easing the city’s economic burden was not the authority’s first priority.

Even with protracted negotiations, the RDA is confident it can wrap up negotiations within 14 months.

“We think we are on schedule to go out and bid the first contracts on March 1, 2007,” said consultant Harry Perks.

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Philadelphia Trash: Too Much And Nowhere To Go

New York Times

March 9, 1986

Section 1; Part 2, Page 48, Column 1

By WILLIAM K. STEVENS, Special to the New York Times


On some mornings, 25 or 30 yellow trash-collection trucks line up at the gate of the municipal incinerator in northwestern Philadelphia, one of two in the city. At the other end of the lot, dump trucks pull away with steaming loads of ashes, bound for some faraway landfill.

The landfills are not only increasingly distant, they are also increasingly scarce. Consequently, Philadelphia has been scrambling desperately to find some place to dump the residue of burned trash.

As it scrambles, a Mount Everest of ash has risen behind the incinerator. Power shovels chip away at it, but the task is truly Augean, and the city is on the verge of running out of space for the ashes.

Philadelphia, despite its charms, has a trash crisis. Many of its own citizens, according to recent polls, consider it the dirtiest city in the country. Now it seems about to choke on its own refuse, and no early solution is in sight.

Incinerators Not Enough

As landfills fill up, many cities in the Northeast and elsewhere are seeking alternative means of trash disposal. But, ”the fact is, we are unique in that we don’t have any final disposal facilities anywhere within our city limits,” said Harry M. Perks, the city’s streets commissioner, who is responsible for trash collection and disposal.

Thirty years ago, when Philadelphia built its incinerators in what was then considered a progressive step, it got rid of its landfills. As the city’s daily load of trash grew, and the incinerators proved to be insufficient, it had to seek places outside the city to dump both ashes and unburned waste. But now, with one community after another saying ”No,” Philadelphia has barely been able to keep ahead of the avalanche of refuse, and several times recently has seemed about to be overwhelmed.

A little more than a year ago, Gloucester County in New Jersey, across the Delaware from Philadelphia, closed its huge Kinsley landfill to all outsiders, saying it needed all of the land. Philadelphia had been dumping more than 40 percent of its trash there. Now 22 percent of the city’s trash is disposed of at the two city incinerators and then taken to landfills. The rest is taken to landfills in suburban towns and to a trash-to-steam plant in Baltimore.

Last June the city had to stop shipping incinerator ashes to the Norris Farm landfill near Baltimore because the landfill did not meet Maryland’s environmental standards, and was closed. Some of the ash, about 400 tons a day, was subsequently hauled to a site on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, but community resistance there in late January brought on an injunction halting the shipments. #600 Tons With Nowhere to Go Last week, the Baltimore trash-to-steam plant announced that come July, it would not renew a contract under which it had been taking 600 tons a day of Philadelphia trash.

”It’s just one more nail in our coffin,” Mr. Perks said.

Earlier this week, with the ash mountain steadily rising at the Northwest Incinerator, a contractor in charge of its disposal finally secured an emergency 30-day agreement to dump the ashes at landfills near East Liverpool, Ohio, 350 miles away. The contractor had searched for a dumping spot as far afield as South Carolina, Georgia and West Virginia. All of this has sharply increased costs to the city, which now amount to $43 million a year.

But by the end of the week public protest in the Ohio town had caused the landfill owner there to refuse to extend the contract beyond the 30 days.

When Philadelphia was shut out of the Kinsley landfill in New Jersey, thereby starting the series of events leading to the present crisis, the city undertook a long-range plan to revamp and modernize its trash-disposal system. The heart of the plan was to be a trash-to-steam plant, to be built at the Philadelphia Navy yard, for converting refuse into energy.

Mayor’s Role Is Criticized

Community opposition in South Philadelphia, adjacent to the Navy Yard, led the City Council to kill the project in January 1985. A recent report by the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce took Mayor W. Wilson Goode to task for allowing the project to die. ”We feel Wilson just did not stand up to the Council,” said G. Fred DiBona Jr., the president of the chamber. ”The governance of the city acted out of politics and didn’t have the guts to make a tough decision.”

The Chamber of Commerce is expected to begin pressing soon for a reconsideration of the Philadelphia Navy Yard site for the plant. ”You don’t control your own destiny by having it somewhere else,” Mr. DiBona said.

Two months ago, Mayor Goode announced that the trash-to-steam plant would be built near Morgantown in rural Berks County. It would accommodate about a third of the city’s trash, said Mr. Perks, nearly making up for the loss of the Kinsley landfill.

But some people in Berks County, who believe they should not have to handle Philadelphia’s mess, are opposing the plant. ”Most communities don’t want their own waste, let alone an outsider’s waste,” Mr. Perks said.

Plans to Fight Facility

Opponents in Berks County formed an organization, called Evergreen, to fight the facility. A spokesman for Evergreen, John Burdy, said this week that the group would take legal action if necessary. ”We feel that the zoning laws were completely bypassed,” said Mr. Burdy, adding that the permit for the facility was issued without proper public notice.

The company that would build and operate the trash-to-steam plant under a tentative agreement with the city contends that fears about unhealthy emissions from the plant are unfounded. ”We have the ability to reduce particulates and acid gas far below state and Federal standards,” said David Sokol, the president of the Ogden-Martin Corporation of Paramus, N.J., which would build the Berks plant.

In apparent recognition that trash-to-steam and recycling are the wave of the future in the post-landfill era, Pennsylvania state legislators have introduced a bill aimed at promoting such solutions. Landfill owners would be taxed to help provide funds for new waste-management systems. And in an attempt to avoid the ”not-in-my-backyard” syndrome, county governments would be empowered to overrule municipal governments in selecting sites for trash-to-steam plants.

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Detention hall site to be art collection’s new home in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Inquirer

December 15, 2004

By Patricia Horn

One day after receiving court permission to relocate its renowned art gallery from Merion to Center City, the Barnes Foundation learned yesterday exactly where it would be moving: to the site of the Youth Study Center, a juvenile detention hall on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 20th and 21st Streets.

Mayor Street told a packed room at City Hall that the city would move the center’s current residents and staff to another site in North Philadelphia and demolish the center so the Barnes could start construction by the end of 2005.

On Monday, Montgomery County Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley Ott gave the financially struggling Barnes permission to deviate from the instructions left by its founder, Albert C. Barnes, so it could move the multibillion-dollar art collection from its suburban location to a more-accessible site along the Parkway. The ruling culminated more than two years of litigation.

City Commerce Director Stephanie Naidoff said the mayor made his final decision on the new site Monday night and announced it yesterday so Barnes board president Bernard Watson could attend. Watson was flying out of town later yesterday, she said.

“In my judgment this is a huge, important advance for us in our city,” Street said. “We have over the years continued to grow into a world-class place, and this is just an enormous step in that direction.”

The choice of the Youth Study Center allayed fears that the Barnes might build on another site it had considered: the Von Colln Memorial Field, which includes two ballfields and a playground.

That site had several factors working in its favor, including closer proximity to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, more room nearby for parking, and no existing building to tear down.

It also does not have a 100-year-old brick sewer pipe running under it, as the Youth Study Center does — a potential construction complication.

In addition, because a replacement for the Youth Study Center, planned for West Philadelphia, won’t be ready until October 2007, the center’s current residents will need to be housed at the Cambria Community Center in North Philadelphia — which is already occupied by 159 prisoners. The city has not found a new home for those inmates yet.

Neighborhood opposition to building on the ballfields, however, would have made it a difficult choice politically.

Instead, the new Barnes will be right next to the Central Library, which itself is raising money for a $ 130 million overhaul of its headquarters. The library hopes to break ground on the improvements and a 160,000-square-foot addition in the spring of 2006.

The new Barnes also will be next door to the Rodin Museum and across the street from the Franklin Institute. It will be nearly directly across the Parkway from the proposed Alexander Calder Museum.

“Well, you know I am happy,” said Happy Fernandez, president of the Moore College of Art and Design, another Parkway tenant. “Frankly, it is wonderful for Moore. We are an educational institution. I was talking to one of my alums, class of ’38, and she used to take public transportation out to the Barnes to take a course. So it is great for our students.”

It was unclear whether the city would donate the Youth Study Center site to the Barnes, sell it at below-market rates, or lease it.

“We don’t have all the details,” Naidoff said. “We have just begun the process, and we intend to give them the land. We are not sure exactly what that means.”

In other cases along the Parkway, the city typically keeps title to the land and leases it to the organization that uses it, said Robert Nix III, chairman of the Fairmount Park Commission, which manages Parkway land. He said the commission’s first preference for the Barnes also would be for a long-term lease arrangement.

Another detail that remains to be worked out, Naidoff said, is who will pay the demolition costs. Those were estimated at $ 2.2 million by Perks Reutter Associates, which did an analysis of the two possible sites for the Barnes.

A major construction complication could be that old sewer pipe, buried 25 feet deep, which Harry Perks of Perks Reutter recommended staying in place.

“This pipe is buried in a trench that is carved out of rock like a tunnel,” he said. “It would be very easy to design a footprint for the building that would go around it.” The city Water Department said no one had talked with it about moving the pipe.

Perks said the study he did for the Barnes did not include any plans for underground parking — or any parking whatsoever.

The building, he said, would not have a deep basement because there is only 15 feet of dirt over 10 feet of rock.

Perks estimated that the new Barnes could be built for $ 60 million, with an additional $ 40 million needed for such things as demolition, furniture, architectural fees, and other costs. The estimate did not include any costs for excavation of rock; Mark Celoni, vice president and civil engineer for Pennoni Associates Inc., said excavating rock could cost 10 times more than excavating soil.

But Maxine Griffith, executive director of the City Planning Commission, said her office’s study of the site and the sewer line running underneath suggested that the new Barnes could straddle the pipe.

“We did the due diligence. It is doable. It was not something that would be an impediment to development,” she said.

Naidoff said issues such as the sewer pipe would “have to wait for an architect to be in place and to evaluate all the options.”

Perks said the new building would be set back on the site because the city wants the tree-lined view of the Parkway from City Hall to the Art Museum to remain unobstructed.

“I estimated that there could be a facility of 120,000 to 150,000 square feet, built at $ 400 to $ 500 per square foot,” Perks said. “The museum that is going to be replicated is only 28,000 square feet. If you are talking 120,0000, I think it is reasonable to have a comfort level that you can replicate the museum and the education and the administration facility. It is almost four times.”

Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which along with two other foundations has promised to help raise $ 150 million for the project and to establish an endowment, said fund-raising would resume in earnest after the first of the year.

No new donors called her yesterday, she said.

“We are back in business. My phone is working. So is Dr. Watson’s,” Rimel said.

She said Gov. Rendell, who supported the Barnes proposal to move, had not yet made a pledge of state support, but she would be “happy to take his call.”

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Center expansion being held hostage; Governor is shooting us, and himself, in the foot by delaying funds

Philadelphia Daily News

October 25, 2004

Page 15

THE PENNSYLVANIA Convention Center is once again being held hostage.

This is not exactly news for a building that must have an invisible “kidnap me” sign painted on its roof. This time, it’s not the unions that are imperiling the center’s potential by alienating customers and staging walkouts, as they have in the past.

This time, the hostage-taker is Gov. Rendell, who earlier this week said that although the Legislature has approved money for expansion of the Convention Center – $632 million that will be covered by both capital budget and gaming revenues – he’s not writing any checks until the center gets “professional management.”

Translation: Get rid of the center’s chief executive, Al Mezzaroba, a political appointee with no track record in the industry.

In any other state, and in any other town, this might not appear so unreasonable. The center expansion will make it one of the biggest in the country, and given the absence of industry pros on the board of directors, building the bench strength on the operations side is a good idea. So why are we calling this hostage-taking?

Let us count the ways:

1. The center just hired a roster of convention center pros, among them: Dittie Guise, who presided over the expansion of the Columbus, Ohio, convention center, and Harry Perks, who was the center’s first executive director and who helped build the original and who has been hired to oversee the expansion project.

2. The governor has not said exactly what skills are missing from the team, and what’s at stake if we don’t get them. Not that Mezzaroba, who is there by dint of political connections, is the best CEO for the job. But if the CEO job is a political placeholder, then who would be better?

Nor has the governor acknowledged that the current team has, in fact, successfully steered the center through a tough and complicated chapter, and despite a history of the worst kind of strife, is poised to expand.

3. It smells bad. Fumo foe John Dougherty, electrician’s union head, has repeatedly called for Mezzaroba’s head; in the next breath, he talks about his alliance with the governor. Does the governor want Mezzaroba ousted to make Dougherty happy? In that case, it’s a political move, using the ultimate political hammer. That doesn’t seem like depoliticizing the center to us.

4. It costs more. The expansion relies on a tight timeline of property acquisition, demolition and construction. Delays in finding a new CEO will cost more taxpayer money.

Delays will also cost more customers, many of whom are waiting to book in a bigger center.

5. It looks bad. This is the most important reason why this hostage-taking is ill-timed. The center doesn’t need yet another public melodrama to turn people away, especially on the eve of an expensive expansion designed to attract even bigger clients.

We put this reason last on purpose; unfortunately, too many people involved in the center put customers last as a matter of course. The governor’s action is a message to customers that once again, they come last, and that the center can’t get out of its own way to keep its eye on what’s really important: customers, who book the center and help keep the economic engine that is the center running.

Sure, we know money is power. Rendell has the money, so he’s got the power. But it’s not just the building being held hostage. It’s the future of the city, the region, and everyone in it.

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For him, it’s the little details that count


May 2, 1993

When Harry Perks, executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, gives visitors a tour of the Convention Center, he is flush with pride.

The facility is the second-largest convention center on the East Coast (only the Jacob K. Javits center in New York is larger). It covers all of two city blocks and part of another two – 1.4 million square feet in all, a quarter of which is exhibit space.

Yet Perks, an engineer by training, finds himself marveling at the vast Convention center’s little things.

“That’s what we’re so proud of is the details. Convention centers were always like gymnasiums before. This is more like upper-level hotels,” said Perks. “Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas (convention centers) are bigger, but we’ve got quality.”

He points out the polished-granite floors, limestone pillars and “cathedral quality” of the concourse area.

“Come in here,” he tells visitors, leading them into a restroom. “It’s beautiful,” he says, pointing to a marble vanity and intricately tiled walls. “You won’t see this anywhere else.”

But as proud as he is of the finer points, it is really the massive banquet and exhibit halls that are the meat of the Convention Center, Perks says.

The main exhibit hall, on an upper floor spanning two full blocks, is the size of seven football fields. It has a ramp and doors big enough to admit tractor-trailers full of exhibition goods. It’s perfect for a car show or a Mummers parade.

The main exhibit hall is 440,000-square feet, placing it among the top 10 convention centers in the country. (There is also another 300,000-square-feet of exhibition space elsewhere in the Convention Center.)

It has modern amenities, too: Exhibit hook-ups provide telephone, electricity, water, air conditioning and other utilities.

“I don’t care if you’re selling swimming pools, you can do it in here,” Perks says.

Elsewhere in the Convention Center, there are smaller banquet and conference rooms, a 600-seat theater and a kitchen, which will be run by 300 employees at peak. Parts of the Convention Center, including a 55,000-square-foot grand hall, won’t be completed until next year.

Next door, the Reading Terminal Market, which has been absorbed by the Convention center and refurbished at a cost of $12 million, gives conventioneers a wide selection of lunch counters, produce dealers, delis, ice cream shops and the like.

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