Movement At Former West Philly High?

Early this new year across the school district, new charter schools are looking for homes—and as many as 12 are interested in laying roots in West Philly, according to the West Philly Local.  One proposal would turn a part of the disused former West Philadelphia High School at 4700 Walnut St. into the Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School.

View of just one section of the school

Back in the fall of 2012 we announced plans from Strong Place Partners, a New York firm that wanted to purchase the property and renovate the former school into 300 apartments and 15K sqft of ground-floor retail. Since then, the building has remained as it last stood when students multiplied two sides of an equation by X, and graffiti has joined the facade in addition to general wear. For all sights, the building stands out as an entire block where nothing but old an empty building is happening, and across the street stretches a vacant lot where grass grows, slow now, freezing sometimes in winter.

Lot across the street a few years back. It's a little less overgrown now but still empty

The school would lease a 90K sqft bite of the building, with an eventual capacity for around 900 students, according to WPL. The school's application indicates that it would be a growing thing, adding more students and teachers each year, until it reaches grades K-12. The first year would include grades K-3, sixth and ninth grades, with a target community that “aims to serve the diverse and low income students of West Philadelphia and University City in or near the zip code of 19139.” It's a school with an emphasis on the arts, as the name suggests.

Boys entrance

This sort of reuse while a major redevelopment purchase sits in limbo or segues into action could be a practical use of part of the property. One wonders, though, how far into the purchase process SPP is, and, if a charter school wants to come in and grow a school, adding students and faculty over time, when would the renovation into actual apartments and retail come? Perhaps the school would have to move eventually. Or else perhaps the SPP project is dead in the water after years of delay. So far, last we heard about action on these plans for the old West Philly High, is a NewsWorks report from this past summer that Strong Place was close to buying, and indicated 250 instead of 300 units.

A schedule of hearings on charters can be found here. Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School is scheduled for Jan. 23rd (that's Friday!) at 3pm.