Community group scrambles to file charter-school application for GHS property

 A look inside the Germantown High School auditorium during a May open-house for possible buyers. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

A look inside the Germantown High School auditorium during a May open-house for possible buyers. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

A grassroots group in Northwest Philadelphia wants to transform Germantown High School into an independent charter school serving neighborhood students.

During a packed Monday night community meeting, Germantown High School Coalition members voted to submit a charter-school application to the Philadelphia School District by the Nov. 15 deadline.

“We don’t have any time,” said Julie Stapleton-Carroll, who leads the group. “What we’re trying to do is herculean.”

All about timing

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The district stopped inviting new charter-school applications in 2009, but a highly anticipated piece of state legislation could make creating a new charter easier.

In a measure authorizing Philadelphia to impose a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes is a provision that allows charter-school applicants to petition the Charter Appeals Board if the Philadelphia School Reform Commission rejects them.

The appeals process in the city is currently overseen only by the SRC.

The new tax, designed to send millions to Philadelphia’s cash-strapped schools, still needs state-senate approval and Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature.

The House passed the measure late Monday and Corbett has pledged to sign the bill upon passage, which could happen as early as Wednesday.

Early indiciations of what could come

Monday night’s meeting followed a private, late-afternoon discussion with members of The Concordia Group and select community members, including Stapleton-Carroll.

On Thursday, the SRC gave Concordia the green light to start negotiating the sale of five shuttered schools, including GHS.

Concordia, a Maryland-based development company, has bid $6.8 million for a portfolio that also includes Robert Fulton Elementary in Germantown, Charles Carroll High School in Port Richmond and Walter Smith and Abigail Vare Elementaries in South Philadelphia.

According to Stapleton-Carroll, Concordia wants to turn Fulton, which sits across Haines Street from GHS, into a senior housing facility for at least 40 to 50 residents.

Concordia’s plans for Germantown are less clear, but the company is reportedly interested in using some of the hulking, four-story building for an educational purpose.

‘Open’ to cooperation

Stapleton-Carroll said Concordia seemed “open” to the idea of partnering with the Germantown High School Coalition, but did not make a firm commitment Monday afternoon.

The coalition wants to create a charter school for 600 to 700 students that focuses on teaching skills needed to join the workforce. A technical or hospitality bent has both come up during community meeting over the past year and a half.

Students from the area would have priority over those from outside of the neighborhood.

“We don’t want a private school. We don’t have an alternative school. We want a community school,” Stapleton-Carroll said.

The school would occupy roughly 200,000 square-feet. The rest of the school’s 355,000 square-feet could then be used for retail.

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