Green Woods Charter School will relocate by 2012

According to the Green Woods board of trustees, the school will leave its current site at the Schuylkill Center in Roxborough by September 2012. 

This February, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) will vote on the proposed expansion of eco-friendly Green Woods Charter School, a tucked-away facility in Roxborough where it’s not unusual to find students playing with dirt — aka compost — for homework. But, according to the Green Woods board of trustees, the school is still moving from its current site at the Schuylkill Center by September 2012 — even if it doesn’t get a nod from the SRC.

The SRC will determine whether Green Woods can grow its operations from 225 to 675 students. The SRC typically sets enrollment caps for charter schools, which must win approval from the SRC if they want to expand.

Barry Sunshine, a Green Woods board member, says the school will relocate whether or not the SRC gives the go-ahead for more students, because it also wants room for an auditorium, cafeteria and possibly a gym. The need for additional students, however, is originally why Green Woods planned to leave its home on 8480 Hagy’s Mill Road: A settlement in ’09 between the Schuylkill Center and Eleanor Smith Morris, the daughter of the woman who gave the Schuylkill Center all of its land, stipulated that the school’s building have a maximum of 225 students.

“That many kids turns out to be financially unsustainable,” says Sunshine.

Since 2002, Green Woods has operated on the Schuylkill Center property, where it’s utilized the surrounding natural space as a classroom. In 2007, it won a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

Green Woods recently made a last-ditch effort to stay on at the Schuylkill Center, though not at its 8480 Hagy’s Mill Road site. It offered to purchase a parcel of land on Port Royal Avenue and develop it. But at a meeting at the end of 2010, the Schuylkill Center board rejected the bid.

“The parcel is the [Schuylkill Center’s] last developable and saleable real property asset,” says executive director Karen Forbes, adding that it is also “one of the last privately held and conservable open spaces in Philadelphia, refuge to numerous indigenous species of plants and animals, a stopover habitat for migratory birds, a breeding ground for toads, and home to one of the last two remaining intact first order streams in Philadelphia.”

But Sunshine argues that the board members denied the bid because they thought that neighbors would react negatively toward development.

“We made a fair offer,” says Sunshine, “and the school would make the perfect occupant for that land. Our students score way above average. We’re doing something right.”

Once Green Woods moves out, the Schuylkill Center says the building’s use will remain educational, just like it was before the school opened its doors. According to Morris, her mother wanted the property to be utilized for educational purposes — though she disagrees with how the Schuylkill Center has interpreted this wish.

“It was given for the Center itself to use, not outside institutions,” says Morris, who is also co-chairwoman of the Friends of Schuylkill Nature Center. “They could do wonderful conferences, and more adult education.”

Morris also hopes that bird, butterfly and photography clubs that met at the site in the past, but were asked to leave because of the school, could come back. This disagreement over how to best use the property is largely why Morris sued the Schuylkill Center in the first place. She sought to evict Green Woods in her lawsuit, arguing that an outside enterprise should not occupy the majority of the building. The settlement, which capped the number of students at 225, effectively evicted Green Woods.

In a recent Friends of the Schuylkill Nature Center newsletter, Morris wrote that if the Center ever considers leasing the building to a school again, “[the Friends], East33.org, and many other organizations will monitor and make every attempt to defeat any new educational institution arriving.”

The Schuylkill Center has not announced any such plans.

Green Woods, meanwhile, says its new site will also be in Northwest Philly. There have been talks about five potential areas for the new school, but no agreements have yet been made.

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