Drexel to purchase University City High School

Members of the community, however, felt the selection process was not transparent

· February 27, 2014, 6:37 pm   ·  Updated April 2, 2014, 8:57 pm

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University City High School, which enrolled 655 students last school year, closed last June along with 22 other Philadelphia schools.

However, Drexel University plans to develop this currently unused space into a conglomerate of educational and commercial organizations.

The School District of Philadelphia announced at a community meeting on Wednesday night that Drexel was the highest bidder in the competition to purchase UCHS, located at 36th and Filbert streets. The official announcement came after indications that Drexel was looking to purchase the space.

“Drexel is absolutely delighted to be chosen as the finalist and is looking forward to the next step in the process,” Drexel Vice President of University Facilities Robert Francis said.

Many of the meeting’s attendees, though, felt that the selection process was not transparent, and that the end result failed to benefit the West Philadelphia community.

“There was zero community input of who the developer was going to be,” Powelton Village Civic Association President Michael Jones said. “This was simply irresponsible.”

Jones added that members of the community were on edge during the selection process, though they were relieved that Drexel will develop the space, since the university was most upfront with its plans.

In addition to UCHS, the 14-acre cluster Drexel will purchase includes the Charles R. Drew Elementary School building on 37th and Warren streets and the Walnut Center on 37th and Walnut streets.

The school district will receive $35 million for the sale of both this cluster of buildings and four other neighborhood schools. It is unclear what Drexel will pay for the buildings it will purchase.

However, it’s clear that Drexel plans to transform the space into a mixed-use building with residential, commercial and educational functions. Francis stressed that the space will not be converted into dormitories.

“We’re talking about significantly improving what is currently vacant,” Francis said. “We see ourselves participating in the economic recovery of West Philadelphia.”

While no plans have been finalized, Drexel may relocate the Samuel Powel Elementary School , currently at 36th Street and Powelton Avenue, to the UCHS site. The expansion would allow for the addition of fourth through eighth grades to the school , which currently only enrolls kindergarten through fourth grade students.

“We’re delighted to pursue this dream,” Drexel Vice Provost of University and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman said. “We’re really committed to supporting a school that has been so successful.”

Despite Drexel’s promise to support Powel, many at the meeting expressed concern that the district’s sales weren’t doing enough to support the community.

“Our high school is gone, our community is scattered - we’re looking for a way to help our kids,” a 1977 UCHS alumnus said. “I’m asking you, Mr. Developer, what are your plans?”

The audience particularly questioned how the school district can help students from the Mantua district.

“If [Powel] is going to be the great school that it is going to be, I want to make sure it’s available to the Mantua community,” Mantua Civic Association member Vanessa Pembleton said.

UCHS was one of the 23 Philadelphia schools to close in June 2013. Now that Drexel is the finalist to purchase the property, the university will begin examining the property and negotiating with the school district. Both parties hope to reach a settlement before the end of June.

“We still have to move from finalist to owner,” Francis said.

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