School officials, political leaders and a handful of lucky students broke ground on Wednesday morning at the new site for the Green Woods Charter School in Roxborough.
The new location for the decade-old charter school is a five-and-a-half acre plot located on the 400 block of Domino Lane. Earlier this year, Green Woods moved out of its digs at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough and is currently occupying two former parish schools at St. Mary of the Assumption and St. John the Baptist, both in Manayunk.
The new three-story building will be approximately 60,000 square feet, and will be surrounded by eight outdoor learning centers in addition to a pond, a stream, and wetlands.
Green features will include full retention of on-site water, high-performance mechanical systems, and an emphasis on natural lighting that is expected to reduce energy costs.
Architects associated with the project also noted that the site – formerly home to Keenan’s Valley View Inn – will be remediated from an urban brown-field site to a green, landscaped site, which will also feature indigenous trees in a simulated forest.
The project is expected to cost $12.5 million, funding for which was raised through the sale of bonds. Green Woods CEO Jean Wallace said that $18 million worth of bonds for the project were sold in two hours.
“That level of investment says a lot about the belief in our educational model,” she observed.
The new building is expected to open in the fall of 2013.
Offering a reason to stay in the city
“This facility will ensure that generations of families will have a great education,” said Jeffrey Hammond, chairman of Green Woods’ board of trustees.
Hammond, recently elected to his post, was first introduced to the school six years ago when his son was entering kindergarten. At the time, he was unaware of the environmentally-themed charter school, and was in fact closing on a house in Glenside when he received the application for the school.
“We were one of 54 applicants for 16 spots,” he said. By way of contrast, he noted that 450 applicants applied last year for a similar amount of vacancies.
“[Green Woods] allowed me to stay,” he said, “and that’s why it’s important that we make sure that more families and more children have that opportunity.”
Hammond stated that the school, which has a current enrollment of 450 students, will expand to 675 students in coming years. In addition, he indicated that he wants the school to rank among the “most accessible” charter schools in Philadelphia, with a new online application becoming available this year.
As reported by NewsWorks in September, Green Woods had made its application available for one day each year in the past, and only to families who attended the school’s open house, which was most recently held at a private golf club in the Philadelphia suburbs.
At the request of the Philadelphia School District, Green Woods will now have an online application, which Wallace confirmed would be available from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.
“Church, home, work, neighbor, wherever,” said Hammond. “You’ll be able to fill out an application and be part of this school process.”
‘The third leg’ of the neighborhood viability stool
Congressman Chaka Fattah, who warmly recalled the former banquet hall on the site that was host to 21st Ward political meetings, said that Green Woods is a “national model” for the creation of educational opportunities for young people.
Referencing his visits to the charter school, Fattah said that he had never seen a school anywhere where kids were as immersed in science and the environment. In addition to its educational attractiveness, Green Woods could be a continued boon to the area.
“Nothing is more important than creating this sustained, institutional educational model in terms of promoting not just the neighborhood, but the city,” he said.
State Representative Pam DeLissio created a “punch list” based on yet-unsigned charter reform legislation for the event. She relayed that everything on the checklist, from curriculum to inclusiveness to standards of teaching, was accounted for.
“It’s my pleasure to say that everything on this punch list was addressed,” she said.
Bernard Guet, executive director of the Roxborough Development Corporation, said after the event that having a permanent home for Green Woods will be “very, very important.”
“It’s the third leg of the stool,” Guet continued, explaining that the viability of a neighborhood is based on three components: The community, the businesses, and the schools. “Without one leg, the stool will not stand.”
Referencing Hammond’s narrowly-averted move to the suburbs, Guet said, “That’s the difference a school can make.”
Instilling a love for learning
Jennifer Trojan, a Roxborough resident and mother of three students at Green Woods, is looking forward to having a new and permanent home for her children’s school, where increased enrollment numbers can mean new friends.
“I hope we can get in as soon as possible,” she said.
In addition, Trojan praised Green Woods’ curriculum and the teachers for “connecting” with the students. The result: Her children love going to school.
In order to assess the veracity of this claim, NewsWorks asked Morgan Mifflin, a Green Woods eighth-grader from Roxborough, her stance on attending Green Woods.
“I love going to school,” she said. “Everybody at our school treats everybody with so much respect. It’s really nice: Everybody’s friendly, and everybody looks forward to seeing you every day.”
While Mifflin won’t be able to attend the new Green Woods location – she’ll be moving on to bigger and better secondary schools next year – her younger sister will be attending.
“She’s going to have a great time,” Mifflin predicted.