Access to the area surrounding the Pagoda should be closed until problems are addressed and repairs made, the vice president of the Foundation for Reading’s Pagoda said.
“I’m here tonight to discuss the obvious issues we all know occur at the Pagoda: the car racing, the loud music, the safety concerns that are occurring at the Pagoda on a daily and weekly basis,” Jose Miranda said at a recent City Council meeting.
Miranda spoke on behalf of the foundation established in 2014 to assist in the preservation, enhancement and maximum community use of the property.
His remarks were made last week during the public comment period at a City Council meeting. Council typically does not reply immediately to public comments at its meetings.
The foundation’s concerns about excessive nighttime noise, littering and other illegal activities at the historic site on Mount Penn are not new.
City officials and council have heard frequent complaints and attempted to address the situation for more than a decade.
Signs installed in 2016 warn that littering, loitering and loud noise are prohibited near the Skyline Drive landmark, but they do little to help.
Gating of the Pagoda parking area at dusk, begun last year, eliminated much of the noise at that site, but the problem simply migrated to the scenic overlook on Skyline Drive at List Road and other areas on the mountaintop.
Over the course of several years, Miranda said, foundation members have seen a concerning decline in the condition of the building, area retaining walls and the general vicinity of the landmark.
Necessary repairs, maintenance and safety upgrades to the 115-year-old building could cost the city up to $3 million, according to a recent condition assessment.
That figure does not include an additional $7.55 million needed to repair the retaining walls, walkways and stairs surrounding the Pagoda.
“Those figures are staggering,” Miranda said.
The inside of the iconic building has been off limits to the public since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and city officials say it will remain closed until upgrades to the building can be made. But the area outside the Pagoda remains accessible to the public.
And that concerns the foundation, Miranda said.
“The stairs just to the right when you’re going down are actually crumbling,” he said. “I have seen children climbing the walls just to the right.”
With the building closed for the foreseeable future, Miranda said, the city has a chance to take precautions for public safety by closing the area around the Pagoda and the roads leading to the site.
The foundation, he said, is willing to work with the city to notify residents and visitors that access is prohibited until the grounds are deemed safe.
“Obviously something of this magnitude requires time and planning,” he said, noting there could be legal concerns regarding any road closures. “But if we can work together, we can come up with a viable solution that works for everyone.”
The ongoing issues on the mountaintop prompted a similar safety and security proposal by council of local governments.
In August the board of directors of the Mount Penn Preserve Partnership ordered a study of the liabilities and logistics involved in closing the mountaintop road from List Road to Angora Road via Duryea and Shearer drives at night.
The MP3, as the partnership is known, is composed of officials from Berks County and the four municipalities traversed by Skyline Drive: Reading, Mount Penn, and Alsace and Lower Alsace townships.
Closing the road from dusk to dawn would cut down on the large and raucous gatherings and other illegal activities in the vicinity of the Pagoda and Skyline Drive lookouts, MP3 board members said.
Miranda said the foundation’s goal is to see the city’s signature building and its grounds made safe for public education and enjoyment.
The Asian-inspired structure is a quintessential example of novelty architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“As a board member and longtime resident of Reading, myself and everyone included want nothing more than for the Pagoda to be a place where everyone can go and have a good time,” Miranda said.
Source: Berkshire mont