Green Woods Charter School opens $13.5 million Roxborough location

 Green Woods Charter School, shown here while still under construction in August, will welcome students starting Tuesday morning. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

Green Woods Charter School, shown here while still under construction in August, will welcome students starting Tuesday morning. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

What had been a brownfield site in Roxborough will begin its new life as a campus devoted to environmental education this week.

The ribbon-cutting for the Green Woods Charter School is scheduled for this morning, and the school’s initial class of 465 students will pass through the doors of the new steel, stone and glass building on Tuesday morning.

The cost projection for the three-story, 60,000-square-foot building on the 400 block of Domino Lane was $13.5 million, and Green Woods CEO Jean Wallace said it will “come in at or very close to our budget.”

“The amazing part of all this was that so many people doubted that construction would come in on time,” Wallace said. “We went from demolition to occupation in just 13 months. It was a remarkable job by BSI Construction and our entire team.”

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Construction challenges

The projected opening date when work began in the fall of 2012 had been September 2013. But Roxborough’s geology — lots of rocks and ledges — slowed construction, and the opening was pushed back to January.

Over the past month, “the weather was a challenge,” Wallace said. “Our landscape and construction team did a phenomenal job of working around and in the elements as best they could.” The outdoor educational areas and planting projects will be completed in the spring, with the participation of the students, she added.

Design and layout

By the time everything is blooming in May, the 5.5-acre campus will include a large pond, rain gardens, wetlands, and a stream with a self-contained water system. There will be eight outdoor learning centers around these water features. The students also have access to a science classroom, technology center and computer lab, an art hub and kiln room, a large gym, and a seeding farm and organic garden.

The design of the school, by architect Joe Jancuska, includes multiple entrances, floor-to-ceiling windows, see-through interior walls, an observation desk and balcony, and light-filled halls meant to bring the outdoors into the building.

The mission of the school is to train students who “understand their place in the natural world and how to lessen their impact on the environment,” according to Wallace.

Site history

For nearly three decades the site had been Keenan’s Valley View Inn, a popular restaurant that closed in June 2012. It then became a dumping ground, and was designated a brownfield site with high levels of lead and arsenic that dated back to the region’s industrial past. Remediation of those contaminants was part of the construction process.

Green Woods students attended class in the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education until 2012, when they moved into two former parish schools in Manayunk, St. Mary of Assumption and St. John the Baptist.

Going forward

Wallace said the student body is expected to grow to 675 by 2017. A second phase of construction for an administrative wing and a bridge connecting the new building to the school is scheduled for that year as well.

Check back later today for photos from the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at

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