By Cherri Gregg, Charlotte Huffman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Contractors are making final preparations for the implosion of the Queen Lane Apartment building in Germantown as the Philadelphia Housing Authority is planning to build 55 low-rise, affordable town home rentals that will be completed next year.

At 16 stories high and nearly a block wide, the Queen Lane Apartment Building is a formidable structure. But at 7:15 Saturday morning it’ll be reduced to rubble.

“Just imagine the capacity of the dust that’s going to occur when the building does come down,” says Bilquis Basset who lives on Priscilla Street, adjacent to the construction.

She and more than 90 other residents who live in a one block radius known as the “evacuation zone” have been asked to be out of their homes by 6 a.m. Saturday.

“Of course we’re concerned about the cleanup of windows and our doors, but our most concern is health-wise,” she says. “Many of the children and elders on this block have asthma — and whenever there is dust coming from the building I can barely speak and have to go inside.”

Lamita Robinson lives across the street from the site and like Basset, she’s concerned about the effects that may be left behind after the dust settles.

“My son’s asthma is really bad and there’s a lot of dust and I know there is asbestos in the building because I saw the signs when walking my dog. So I’m not happy,” Robinson said.

Four hundred others within a two block radius, or the “dust zone,” have been ordered by the city to stay inside with windows and doors closed.

“The level of dust will be like a windy day that has some sand in it,” says Mike Johns, a Senior VP for the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

He says air management experts will check air quality and let residents know when it’s safe:

“The dust will go up and out and then down,” he says, “and what I am being told is that they’ll open certain areas and then other areas and that could be between 10am and 5pm.”

The area around Queen Lane Apartments is densely populated and some residents who live in close proximity worry about the potential for damage to their properties.

“My main concern is the foundation of the house. Hopefully when I come back it is in the same spot,” said Amir Baxter who spent the morning covering his windows and hanging a tarp over the front of his house.

Surveyors could be seen Friday afternoon taking photos of homes in the event there is damage.

Johns says PHA is experienced with implosions under this type of condition and has placed barriers in front of some homes to prevent damage.

“Over the past decade we’ve done 22 implosions in the city of Philadelphia, the vast majority of them have been in neighborhood situations just like this,” Johns said.

Residents can expect to be inconvenienced for up to 12 hours and then hear sounds of construction for months to come.

“We are elated that the building is finally coming down,” says Lisa Hopkins, founder of Northwest Neighbors Association of Germantown.  “To be inconvenienced for eight hours and then a month for removal– is worth it.”

“It’s been an eyesore,” says another resident, “I’ll be glad to see it go.”

“It has a lot of history–  a lot, but this is probably for the best,” says a resident who lives on Priscilla Street.

The history runs deep. Beneath the Queen Lane’s playground and basketball court is a Potter’s field used to bury African Americans, mulattoes and strangers of that time.  The field will be preserved when PHA opens the new housing units next fall.

PHA has set up a comfort center at Cook Wissahickon Elementary School at 201 E. Salaignac Street.

Debris removal will begin Monday.

 

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