Philadelphia trying to flip shuttered schools quickly

 John L. Kinsey Elementary in North Philadelphia is one of 31 school properties that will be empty on the first day of school. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks, file)

John L. Kinsey Elementary in North Philadelphia is one of 31 school properties that will be empty on the first day of school. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks, file)

The city of Philadelphia and its cash-strapped school district are joining forces to sell some shuttered school buildings. The new partnership is moving forward now that the School Reform Commission has approved a new policy to repurpose some of the city’s defunct schools. Under the new policy, the most marketable properties will be identified and fast-tracked for sale. That could help generate money to help close the District’s massive budget gap.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger said the plan will be good for neighborhoods that are home to the shuttered buildings. “In our discussions with the district we’ve recognized that there are probably a handful of properties for which there has been significant interest expressed and which we would like to put out into the marketplace quickly, try to come to transactions quickly,” he said.

Greenberger said he expects “conditions of sale” will be placed on each building. They could restrict what the building can be used for and how quickly it must be re-occupied. Those conditions will likely vary building to building.

Plenty of experts and neighbors have already given the buildings a once-over.

Harris Steinberg is the Executive Director of PennPraxis, the clinical consulting arm of the School of Design at Penn. He said the new plan looks very close to one developed by students at the school.

“The community engagement aspect of this is really critical to get right to ensure that communities understand the market realities and have a really strong input into kind of what the community needs are but weigh that against what the realities are for these buildings, many of which don’t have a very strong market for them,” said Steinberg.

Superintendent William Hite has said the district is committed to making sure communities are involved in the process. The city and the school district said the process will be transparent and include community input through public meetings as well as a website that’s being created to list information about the properties, their condition and local demographics.

“Vacant, publicly owned buildings are of significant concern to communities across the city,” said Council President Clarke. “I am gratified to hear Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Hite are taking concerns about  these 31 empty properties seriously.

“A targeted, aggressive strategy to return these properties  to productive use will help the City raise much-needed short-term revenue for the School District of Philadelphia. This strategy also will require the input and buy-in of communities, the School District of Philadelphia, City Council, and the Nutter Administration. I am hopeful that, together, we can upend this city’s unfortunate reputation for indifference to vacancy and blight.”

Additional information about the Facilities Master Plan is available online.

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