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Swell Bubble Gum Factory Meets Demise

Demolition on the vacant building will start Wednesday.

Swell Bubble Gum Factory Meets Demise

A Havertown factory that spent 55 years making products such as Swell bubble gum and El Bubble gum cigars will be torn down starting Wednesday to make room for the $20 million YMCA which will rise in its place.

The Swell bubble gum factory on Eagle Road has sat dormant since it closed in 2003, according to the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity case statement for the proposed Haverford Township Area YMCA.

The Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation spent 55 years producing Swell bubble gum, El Bubble Gum cigars, Cry Baby extra sour bubble gum, Gold Rocks Nugget Bubble Gum and Joe Blo giant size bubble gum at the Havertown factory before selling the company in 2003 to Concord Confections Inc., the manufacturer of the world’s first bubble gum, Dubble Bubble, according to a press release about the sale of the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp.

Haverford Township acquired the factory site through eminent domain in 2008, the YMCA’s case statement said.

A Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 township agenda states that the previous owners, the Fenimore Family, were unhappy with how the township obtained the former bubble gum factory.

At the time, the appraised value of the site was $1.4 million, but the family was asking for much more, according to the agenda. It did not state how much money the Fenimore Family was asking.

The township makes no comments regarding the property because it is in litigation concerning the factory site, Assistant Township Manager Lori Hanlon-Widdop replied in an e-mail Tuesday to the Haverford-Havertown Patch that requested information about the factory site.

According to the press release about the sale of the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., which says when the company sold to Concord Confections Inc., the Feinmores stayed on in consultative and executive roles.

At a recent Board of Commissioners meeting, during a public forum, Michael Levin, Ph.D., said the township will try to appeal a recent ruling that awarded between $4 million to $5 million to the previous owners, which the board did not dispute. This is the litigation that Hanlon-Widdop would not comment on.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Swell bubble gum campus a Superfund site, said the YMCA’s case statement.  Superfund sites are abandoned hazardous waste sites.

In the past, many, including township residents, questioned the safety of the Superfund site because of the pentachlorophenol (PCP) that has been found at the location.

"From 1947 to 1991, National Wood Preservers ran a wood treatment operation on this site in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The company reportedly disposed of liquid waste in a well leading to groundwater under the plant.  The wastes where mostly oil contaminated with pentachlorophenol (PCP)," the EPA website stated. "The liquid wastes leaked into nearby Naylor’s Run, a small stream that flows through a residential area and then empties into the Delaware River. Liquid wastes were also spilled on the surface, contaminating soil in the area."

However, Haverford Township has maintained that the EPA has the final say on the safety and that clean up of the site has been effective. More information regarding the Superfund site's history can be found here.

In March 2010, the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity signed a ground lease with Haverford Township, which is the site’s current landlord, and agreed to demolish the 284,582 square-foot factory and clean up the site, according to information in the ground lease. 

In place of the factory, the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity plans to build a $20 million “state-of-the-art” Haverford Township Area YMCA, said John Flynn, YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity President and CEO. 

The YMCA agreed to pay Haverford Township up to $2 million in rent over a 25-year period for use of the property, the ground lease states.

On Wednesday, an 11 a.m. ceremony at the site will mark the beginning of the demolition, Flynn said. 

“We will demolish in earnest the bubble gum factory beginning tomorrow,” Flynn said on Tuesday.

Flynn said he plans to attend the ceremony along with YMCA officials from the Y’s local branch board, township officials and elected officials.

Plans for the new YMCA will be discussed and a family will talk about what the Y means to them and what it means to Haverford Township, Flynn said.

Then “a big bucket will start crumbling the place,” Flynn said.

The rest of the demolition, plus the removal of debris and rubble, will take place during the next six to eight weeks, Flynn said.

The YMCA would then spend the remainder of 2011 fund-raising and advancing its permits for final permits and construction, Flynn said.

The Y has raised $4.3 million toward the $20 million cost of construction, Flynn said.  Flynn also stated he is “optimistic” that the Y will meet its fund-raising goal.

If all of the necessary construction permits have been obtained, the Y plans to start construction on the 70,000-square-foot facility in March 2012 and open the Haverford Township Area YMCA in September 2013, Flynn said.

About twice as large as the Ardmore YMCA, the Haverford Township Area YMCA will feature three pools, a double gymnasium, a large wellness center, five locker rooms, and an early childhood development wing with a “kid zone,” or educational care center where children can stay with qualified Y staff while their parents exercise, Flynn stated.

The key feature of the facility will be the grand lobby, which will include a portion of the running, jogging and walking track coming through it, Flynn commented.

Flynn said YMCAs have become central gathering spaces, at a time when not many gathering spaces exist in communities.

“It really makes a major contribution to the facility and the services we offer,” Flynn replied.

The new Y will also create about 150 to 200 new jobs in the community, Flynn added.

“We’re often the first employers of teenagers,” Flynn said, explaining that it employs young adults through its summer day camps, as lifeguards and as member service personnel.

The Y will have a $5 million budget, and 60 percent of that budget will be spent on employee wages, while the rest will cover equipment, utilities and others business costs, Flynn explained.

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