Greene Street Friends School prepares to expand

Greene Street Friends School, the Quaker school that’s been operating in Germantown since the 1850s, is in the beginning stages of its first construction project in a hundred years.

Last week, the City Planning Commission voted to support a zoning change that would let the school build new educational and parking facilities without having to go through the zoning board for variances. The legislation, introduced earlier this year by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, would rezone the school’s properties—on the block bounded by Germantown Avenue, School House Lane, Greene Street, and Armat Street—to CMX-3, a medium-density commercial category that allows educational uses by right.

“We’re just trying to be legal,” said Ed Marshall, the school’s director. “… It’s a little crazy to be running a school and to have nothing that is zoned for a school.”

Marshall said the school currently teaches around 300 children, and would probably pull in another 40 or so after the expansion. The school tries to keep class sizes between 15 and 20 students. It teaches kids from Pre-K through 8th grade, and is moving toward having two sections of each grade, which would add up to about 400 students on the high end of the class-size range. Marshall said, though, that he doesn’t imagine the school ever housing more than around 360 children.

The school has yet to start fundraising for the expansion, which will include parking facilities and community space. Marshall said that local community groups, including Penn Knox Neighborhood Association and Germantown Community Connection, are supportive of the project. He declined to share site plans with PlanPhilly.

Marshall said the school has been able to grow because its costs are low relative to other private schools. Greene Street spends roughly the same amount per pupil as the Philadelphia School District, he said.

The zoning bill would allow a much wider range of uses on the property than currently permitted. It would affect only the properties owned by Greene Street Friends School.

“Normally I hate this type of upzoning,” said Alan Greenberger, the Planning Commission’s chairman. “But Greene Street Friends School ain’t going anywhere.”

The school purchased a property at the corner of Greene Street and School House Lane and demolished a building there over the last few years. It is currently developing parking spaces on that site.

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