UPDATE (September 2014): The Alliance is currently partnering with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to include post-1938 public school buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in order to incentive their preservation. A number of vacant school properties have already been transferred from the School District to new owners. Some of these buildings are now slated for demolition, but others are poised to be transformative rehabilitation projects.
Significance: The School District of Philadelphia owns and operates nearly 300 school buildings, from imposing Colonial Revival, Gothic, and Art Deco high schools to modest postwar elementary schools. Beyond their architectural significance, each of these buildings is a true neighborhood asset that contributes to community identity and stability. The majority of these schools were constructed before 1938, and more than 150 are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Threat: The District shuttered 23 schools in 2013 and is currently marketing 30 vacant properties for sale, with plans to close and sell up to 60 schools over the next five years. Neighbors fear that these closures will lead to abandonment and blight; the recently-demolished Edison High School attracted squatters and vandals for years before a four-alarm blaze gutted its interior. In addition, the District’s ongoing funding crisis has severely impacted upkeep of the schools which remain open, compounding a deferred maintenance challenge that officials already estimate at over $4 billion.
Recommendations: Adequate maintenance is essential for operating schools to provide a safe and healthy learning environment and for vacant schools to be successfully rehabilitated. Multiple examples of successful school conversions, some aided by historic tax credits, should help guide school disposition policies and strategies. Schools built after 1938 should also be evaluated for National Register eligibility to help incentivize their adaptive reuse.
Media coverage of Philadelphia Public Schools:
- “SRC to sell 11 closed school buildings, netting $2M,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20, 2014
- “Young Developer Will Create Philadelphia’s Largest Creative Community Space,” Next City, September 19, 2014
- “SRC approves Germantown High School sale to Md. developers,” Newsworks, September 19, 2014
- “SRC sells William Penn High to Temple,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 2014
- “Drexel buys University City High School,” Philadelphia Daily News, June 18, 2014
- “Four buyers for closed Philly schools identified,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 2014
- “Philadelphia Schools See Cash in Old Classrooms,” New York Times, November 12, 2013
- “State of Phila’s school buildings is a worry, too,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2013
- “A $100 million offer for shuttered Phila. schools?” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 27, 2013