Alumni, community disappointed as Germantown High expansion idea goes unheeded

Ignored and disappointed.

That’s how some members of the Germantown High School community are feeling this week after learning about the School District of Philadelphia’s decision to expand nearby Roosevelt Middle School.

District officials told NewsWorks that Roosevelt will become a K-8 school in September and is expected to serve just over 700 students. Its East Washington Lane building currently serves 317 students in sixth through eighth grade.

“There are quite a few choice words I could use,” said Doug Tolbert, a Germantown High alum.

GHS plans stymied

Tolbert, along with other Germantown grads, wanted to see their alma mater, which will close following this academic year, become a K-12 institution.

They figured the school’s massive, four-story building, could easily serve students from Robert Fulton Elementary, which is also slated to close, and Roosevelt.

With 676 students, Germantown’s building is operating at about 30 percent capacity.

“It’s almost like a compromise, but it’s not the compromise we wanted or were looking for,” said state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, a member of Germantown’s Class of 1976. “We’re still losing out on the 9-12 grades. I’m very disappointed with the district because I don’t think they truly listened to what we offered.”

The district looked into the proposal, but it never appeared to gain much traction.

How it happened

During a packed and passion-filled school closings hearing in which 23 schools were closed, the School Reform Commission elected to save Roosevelt from the chopping block and asked the district to explore the possibility of using the school for students from all over central Germantown.

Quality-wise, Roosevelt’s building was called the “the best in the area.”

Using Roosevelt as a 6-12 school was explored, but officials ultimately decided the building was better suited for an elementary school, said Danielle Floyd, the district’s deputy chief of staff.

Floyd said adding high-school students to Roosevelt would have required the district to make a significant investment in the school’s building. High-school biology and chemistry labs, for example, would be needed.

“The renovations that would be required proved to be rather costly,” said Floyd.

Financial concerns

Some renovations will still be necessary, but for a severely cash-strapped district, every dollar counts.

Floyd said the decision was also made to keep a middle-school program in the neighborhood and to concerns from Fulton parents about the distance their children will have to travel next school year to get to class.

Under the district’s facilities master plan, Fulton students had the option of attending Emlen Elementary in Mt. Airy or Wister Elementary in Germantown, both just over a mile from Fulton’s Haines Street building.

Roosevelt is slightly closer to Fulton.

“Roosevelt will provide a more convenient option for those families,” said Floyd.

Alumni association reaction

Germantown High students will travel to either Roxborough High School or Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane.

That fact still stings for Vera Primus, president of the GHS alumni association. She doesn’t understand why the district chose to expand Roosevelt instead of keeping Germantown open.

“It’s not the heart of Germantown. It’s not a landmark in Germantown. It’s just a school that was built in Germantown,” said Primus.

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