Utilities shut off at Berean Institute

Argo Simpkins (center), of the ABO Haven job-training company, in its Berean Institute facilities.
Argo Simpkins (center), of the ABO Haven job-training company, in its Berean Institute facilities. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 07, 2012

THE GAS AND ELECTRIC were turned off last week at the Berean Institute after the utility companies found that they had no service contract with the North Philadelphia trades school

PGW spokesman Barry O'Sullivan said that PGW is investigating how Berean was receiving gas without an account.

"If you go to a location where the gas has been shut off - and because there was no account there since 2009 - and we discover gas use, in almost every case that is a very dangerous situation," O'Sullivan said. "The gas has been re-accessed and repiped into that location by people who are not experts."

A spokesman for Peco Energy said it is still investigating electricity use at the building.

According to a worker with ABO Haven - a job-training company that said it had signed a lease with Berean to rent office and classroom space for $9,000 a month - the gas and electric were turned off the same day a story appeared in the Daily News about a leasing conflict between ABO Haven and the institute, on Girard Avenue near 19th Street.

ABO Haven said it stopped paying rent to Berean in April, after the Department of Education told ABO that Berean did not have authority to sign a commercial lease.

"We are going to get the electricity turned back on," Argo L. Simpkins, executive director of ABO Haven, said early Thursday.

"We are talking with the state to get some kind of documentation to take it to the electric company so we can open a new account," Simpkins said, adding that ABO also plans to get gas service turned back on.

Simpkins said that ABO brought in a generator and that it has the computers, phones and cash registers in its ShopRite retail-services classes working again.

A spokeswoman for Berean Institute said that the organization, founded in 1899 to teach carpentry, tailoring, barbering and trades to African-Americans, would not comment on the utilities. The institute has been struggling for years and lost state funding in 2008.

ABO filed a lawsuit last Friday against Berean, asking for at least $1 million in damages because it said that the loss of utilities could cause ABO Haven to lose its contracts to provide "welfare-to-work" job training.

Vivienne Crawford, an attorney who represented Berean in court recently, did not return phone calls from the Daily News for comment.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter, said that ABO has three contracts through a city-affiliated program called Philadelphia Works Inc. to provide retail/customer service, certified nursing assistant and home health-care aide training.

The trouble between ABO and Berean came to light Aug. 24, when ABO Haven sought an injunction in Common Pleas Court because the Philadelphia Water Department turned off water to the building on Aug. 17. Water service has been restored.

State Rep. Michelle Brownlee said she is trying to help Berean's board negotiate with the state to maintain the building.

Contact Valerie Russ at russv@ phillynews.com or 215-854-5987, on Twitter @ValerieRuss DN.

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