Community leaders mull possibilities for future of Germantown High building

 A stack of boxes outside Germantown High on the last day of school. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

A stack of boxes outside Germantown High on the last day of school. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

A new grassroots group wants to transform Germantown High School’s shuttered building into a cutting-edge vocational technical school.

On Tuesday night, more than a dozen community stakeholders met to discuss the future of the hulking property, one of 24 that closed in June as part of the Philadelphia School District’s facilities master plan.

A focus on education

By the end of a nearly two-hour discussion, held inside the Germantown office of state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, everyone agreed that the school should remain a site of education. The high-demand for voc-tech training, they reasoned, would likely draw residents from Germantown and beyond to the school.

“They need a job now when they get out of high school,” said Rev. Chester Williams, president of the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club.

The task force may work towards building a brand new charter school or attracting an outside entity or entities, such as the city’s building trade unions, to set up shop. No matter what, some GHS alums in the room felt strongly that Germantown High School should be incorporated into the name of the new endeavor.

Pursuing a charter could be an uphill battle. Due to the district’s budget crisis, new charter school applications are not currently being accepted.

Julie Stapleton-Carroll, who is spearheading the task force, doesn’t think that would be deal-breaker.

“I know that’s the position that [the district has] currently, but I also know there’s changes coming to the [School Reform Commission] and there’s always deals being made,” said Stapleton-Carroll, vice president of Germantown United CDC’s board and founder of Wissahickon Charter School.

“We have an opportunity to pressure the school district to give us a school.”

In late October, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos resigned for personal reasons. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky’s term expires in January.

School district officials were invited to Tuesday’s meeting, but did not attend.

The task force is scheduled to reconvene sometime after the New Year.

“I’m charged up. I’m excited,” said Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass as the meeting came to a close.

Door not shut on Camelot

Officials with a for-profit education company are less enthused by the nascent effort to find a new use for the GHS building.

Camelot Schools, a longtime partner of the Philadelphia School District, hoped to use the property to house three of its alternative education programs. The plan came to a screeching halt in mid-August when district officials informed Camelot that the building was not safe for students and needed to be inspected.

Three months into the school year, the door on a deal between the district and Camelot may be closing, but has yet to be slammed shut.

“We still anticipate at some point hearing from the district again with respect to Germantown High School,” Camelot spokesperson Kirk Dorn told NewsWorks prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

Both Kinsey and Bass said Tuesday that they are still open to Camelot coming to Germantown.

“I don’t want to close the door on anything,” said Kinsey.

Ultimately, the cash-strapped district wants to sell of its inventory of nearly 30 closed school buildings to help address its ongoing financial crisis during this school year and beyond.

Renovating and bringing Germantown’s building up to code would reportedly require more than $30 million. To date, there are no offers on the table.

“There’s no sale that’s getting ready to happen,” said Bass.

Stapleton-Carroll has said opening a new school at Germantown’s building would not be possible until the 2015-2016 academic year at the earliest.

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