A little over a year ago, we told you to put in an offer on the former Walter Smith School building in Point Breeze, at the corner of 19th & Wharton. The school was part of a group of twenty shuttered schools being offered for sale by PIDC, and represented an interesting opportunity with the combination of a large reusable building and a sizable lot seemingly ready for development. By September, it was reported by Newsworks that the Concordia Group, a developer based in Maryland, was negotiating for the right to purchase Smith and several other former schools.
South side of the parcel
Clearly, the sale has gone through. It has came to our attention that the developers, in partnership with HOW Properties, have pulled a zoning permit to convert the school building into apartments with 45 units and a roof deck. We hear they'll be rentals, and that they'll be market-rate units. We're pretty confident that this is a by-right development by the way.
In recent weeks, we've profiled two shuttered Philadelphia schools which are currently available for sale through a cooperative effort with PIDC. Twenty schools are available in all, but we've chosen to only highlight the properties that we deem as the most interesting redevelopment candidates. As the deadline to submit a bid for one of these buildings is today, we figured we'd hurry up and profile one more school, for you multi-millionaire procrastinators out there.
William Penn High School
The former Bok School is an architectural gem, and the former Smith School is no slouch either. The same can't be said, though, for the former William Penn High School at Broad & Master, which was closed back in 2010. Based on the architecture, you might have guessed it was built in 1974. And you'd be right. What the building lacks in character, it makes up for in size.
This past semester, a class at Philadelphia University was tasked with coming up with a creative way to reuse the building. Over the next few weeks, we'll be profiling some of the ideas that came out of that class, which are currently presented in poster form in the SOSNA office. Please keep in mind, these proposals are the efforts of individuals who were encouraged to stretch themselves architecturally and creatively, so it's extremely unlikely that any of them will ever be implemented. Still, as an academic exercise, it's very interesting to see how this building could be reused.
The first project turns the building into a massive rainwater collector by building a huge funnel into the side of the building. Most of the collected water from the sky in this application would be used for urban farming in and around the building. Other parts of the building would be used for retail, office space, and educational purposes. Check it out.
1) Get to know someone in the building - build a relationship with a teacher or administrator so they don't think you're just creeping around the school
2) Check your intentions - have a plan for what you want to accomplish and be humble in your efforts
3) Don't make assumptions - ask the school what they need
The lowest hanging fruit comes in the form of schools supplies, especially printer paper. Do you have spare school supplies in your house? Extra reams of printer paper? If not, do you feel like buying any of those things and donating them to your local school? It seems like a safe bet that supplies of this ilk would be appreciated and go a long way toward helping the kiddies. But don't forget recommendation #3 - call first and see what they need. After all, each of your neighbors may have already donated a box of printer paper today.
The last few years have been rough ones for the Philadelphia School District, with budget shortfalls, layoffs, and school closings. One would think that the District would be aggressively working to sell shuttered schools in an effort to fill some of the gap in their budget, but that process to this point has been, let's say, measured. We still think they should have considered the $100M ofer for all the closed schools from Municipal Acquisitions, but that ship has sailed. Still, an Inquirer report earlier this week informed us that some schools are finally going to be sold, with plans for two to be redeveloped.
While the Philadelphia Public School system is in shambles, there is at least some positive news for the Kearney School. Located at 601 Fairmount Ave., the school was established in 1921, according to Philaplace, and named for Civil War general Phillip P. Kearney. In its early years it served to educate the children of the many Jewish immigrants who lived along Marshall Street. In more recent years, space constraints at the school were becoming an issue.
Almost a year ago, we first told you about plans for an expansion to the school, including a new multi-purpose room that doubles as a gym and four new classrooms with lab space. At that time, the addition was all but a collection of masonry and construction materials. But thankfully, it was completed in time for the beginning of the school year.
One way development and improvement projects are incubated at public institutions in a city facing a stressed budget, is through workshops organized by smaller organizations who connect the necessary professionals to the communities in need.
The goal is for the project to go from the whiteboard to the parcel, so to speak. That’s what’s happening at the Henry C. Lea School, located at 4700 Locust St. in West Philly. In May, we wrote about a design charrette hosted by the Community Design Collaborative. The goal of that charrette was to generate community ideas about how to green the schoolyard at Lea, now a lake of concrete.
As you are probably well aware, our school district has been dealing with severe financial issues for the past few years. One way that they are attempting to make up for budget shortfalls is by (slowly) selling off vacated school buildings. We've been covering this intermittently over the last year, and today we have an update. An eagle-eyed reader was kind enough to share the news that the sale of three buildings was approved at last night's SRC meeting, after a few hours of testimony from people upset about more school closings.
Today, at 2pm, new school superintendent Dr. William Hite held a press conference detailing a list of 37 Philadelphia Public Schools that he will recommend to close their doors for good at the end of the current school year. These recommended closures are due to aging facilities and huge under-enrollment numbers in numerous District schools. It's certain that many schools will have active and vocal community members fighting to keep them open, but it's more than likely that most of the schools recommended for closure will indeed shut down in June.
Map of schools on the list. Image from the Notebook.
As you can see, many of the schools on the list are located in North Philadelphia, with other schools scattered among other neighborhoods farther out from Center City. Of interest to us today are the schools a little closer in to Center City, among them:
It appears we could be seeing redevelopment at the old West Philadelphia High School very soon.
A bid from New York-based Strong Place Partners (SPP) to purchase and renovate the building at 4700 Walnut St. into a mixed-use development featuring studio apartments and lofts aimed at graduate and junior faculty at nearby universities will have to be voted on by its School Reform Commission (SRC) before any further action can occur.
The school district is working towards including the item on its December 20 Action Committee meeting, according to spokesperson Dierdre Darragh.