Hold-ups associated with a high-profile construction project will delay the opening of two Center City high schools, WHYY has learned.
Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy (SLA) will open Thursday, two days after classes begin for other students. Thanks to a $34 million overhaul, the schools will share a building at Broad and Spring Garden streets for the first time this year.
The district is furiously trying to finish that project, and ultimately decided it would have to delay the opening of school to ensure student safety. A district spokesperson said the school’s elevators are temporarily offline during the construction process and wouldn’t be ready for Tuesday.
Though the schools will maintain separate academic programs and largely separate spaces, the co-location of SLA and Ben Franklin drew considerable attention. Franklin is a historically low-performing neighborhood high school. SLA is one of Philadelphia’s premier magnet programs.
Some see the merger as a way to bridge the academic gap between a highly-selective school and a neighborhood school that has been left behind by Philadelphia’s highly stratified and complex high-school choice system.
Others fear a “culture clash” between students of the two high schools — one that could ultimately dissuade families from selecting an academically successful magnet program.
School district officials largely painted the merger decision as a pragmatic one.
The district spent millions renting a nearby space for SLA and decided the acclaimed school needed a permanent home. Franklin’s building was well under capacity after years of enrollment declines and already needed physical upgrades, officials said.
“We’re now increasing and improving the educational environment for two schools,” said Philadelphia school superintendent William Hite.
Under Hite’s leadership, the district has looked for opportunities to put selective programs into neighborhood school buildings. In 2018, SLA expanded its program inside the building that once held Dimner Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia. Two years prior, Hill Freedman World Academy merged with Morris Leeds Middle School, a former neighborhood school in the Northwest part of the city.