Sale of old West Philly High School still pending


Strong Place Partners had proposed to convert part of the building into graduate student housing


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The proposal to renovate the old West Philadelphia High School at 48th and Walnut streets was not presented at the SRC meeting Thursday.

Photo by AARON WALKER


Yesterday, the School District of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission voted to approve the sale of three of the district’s 12 vacant properties.

While many neighborhood residents are looking forward to the sale and possible renovation of the old West Philadelphia High School building — located on the corner of 48th and Walnut streets — there were no resolutions concerning that property presented to the commission at its meeting.

The district is continuing to work with the community as the building’s sale proceeds through the approval process.

At a public meeting last Saturday, Strong Place Partners proposed to convert the upper floor of the building into about 400 loft and studio apartment units, according to Andrew Bank, president of Strong Place Partners.

In response to this proposal, Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy said in an email that the University could not comment on the project and whether it would have any intention to become a tenant of the building.

The sale of three of the district’s vacant properties that were approved — John Paul Jones Middle School Annex, Simon Muhr and Rudolph S. Walton elementary schools — indicates an ongoing trend of selling vacant facilities in the Philadelphia school district to bring in revenue.

The district currently has 12 vacant properties on the market, including WPHS. Local sources have reported that many of these properties have received bids from private developers, like Strong Place Partners, and charter schools.

According to its budget plan, the school district expects to receive $28 million from the sale of unused school facilities through 2017. In February, the old WPHS building was listed on the market for $6.5 million and will now remain on the market for further bidding.

Built in 1912, the school was the first secondary school opened west of the Schuylkill River. The school was originally separated into two facilities for boys and girls. As the neighborhood’s population grew, the city opened Overbrook and John Bartram high schools in 1926 and 1935, respectively, to alleviate overcrowding. The school moved in 2011 to a new location on 49th and Chestnut streets and left the building vacant.

Paula McKinney-Rainey, president of the WPHS Alumni Association, called the building “iconic,” and said the proposed renovations for the building would be “an exciting opportunity.”

McKinney-Rainey, who attended Saturday’s meeting, was in favor of the school being turned into housing units. It would “continue the relationship between the ‘town and the gown,’” she said.

“We hope that West Philadelphia can be a model for the rest of the country for how a university can work with its neighborhood,” she added.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the proposal was denied by the SRC at Thursday’s meeting. There were no resolutions concerning the West Philadelphia High School presented at the meeting, so no ruling was made. The DP regrets this error.

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