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University City High School Credit: Idrees Syed , Idrees Syed

One Penn expert warns that the City of Philadelphia’s plan to earn back the money it borrowed to open public schools on time is far from realistic.

To be able to open public schools for the fall, the city of Philadelphia borrowed $50 million. According to an article by CBS Philadelphia, the president of the City Council believes that selling only a fraction of the previously closed and currently unoccupied school buildings in Philadelphia will generate $100 million. Harris Steinberg, an adjunct assistant professor at Penn School of Design, led a team of graduate students looking at this issue.

Related: Phila. School District to close 23 public schools

There are many obstacles, Steinberg said, in both repurposing school buildings and conveying the actual market value that the buildings hold. He added that none of the school buildings are “within Penn’s boundaries” in terms of both location and the University’s needs.

“For every school building that is in a good market,” — close to public transportation, within walking distance to a university and near good housing — “there are three that have very little value,” Steinberg said. “Seventy-five percent of the schools are either in weak markets or no market at all.”

Not only will the city have difficulty selling the school buildings due to market constraints, it also must contend with the difficulty in repurposing the buildings for other uses by buyers. According to Steinberg, the buildings don’t easily lend themselves to other uses.

Related: Panel discusses future of UCHS

This is particularly true of the schools built in the 1960s and 70s, which differed from “old-fashioned schools that were single-corridor with big rooms on each side with big windows.” The old-fashioned schools are frequently transformed into housing or offices. Philadelphia does not have those types of school buildings to sell, and it is “thus a pretty complicated calculus in figuring out the true value” of the buildings that are available, Steinberg said.

“There’s a highly charged emotional part of this conversation … the removal of cherished landmarks and neighborhood assets and reshuffling how we educate our children,” Steinberg said. “But then there’s also the cold, hard market reality of what really has value. That’s where we’ve missed out as a community — in having that honest conversation.”

Related: WPTP largely unaffected after Phila. school closings

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