Plan to relocate Mt. Airy school program raises concern over transportation

How kids will get to school was the top concern expressed by parents whose children, attend a Mt. Airy middle school that could be moved to a site in Roxborough.

“I don’t want my son to take three buses to get to school,” said one of more than 50 parents and students at a meeting Thursday night at Martin Luther King High School. It was called by the School District of Philadelphia to give an overview to the community about to the District’s proposal to move AMY-Northwest Middle School to Ridge Avenue (map).

Under the District’s Facilities Master Plan students at AMY NW, 6611 Ardleigh Street, would move into what is now Levering Elementary School, 6000 Ridge Ave. Levering is scheduled to close June 2012 and its 185 students will be sent to other elementary schools in Roxborough.

The proposed move, designed to save the district money, has raised many questions, but transportation was at the top of the list of parents’ concerns voiced to School District officials William Montgomery of the District’s Office of Grade and Space Planning and Jennie Wu, deputy for Strategic Planning. They presented the case for moving AMY’s 250 students from East Mt. Airy to Roxborough.

According to Montgomery, the District currently pays $205,000 in annual rent to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for AMY-NW’s building, the former home of the Archdiocese’s St. Therese of the Child Jesus elementary school. “It’s a nice facility but there’s no gym or auditorium, and the library is small,” he said.

The Levering building has an auditorium, gymnasium, full cafeteria, plus an up-to-date and fully wired science room and music and art rooms, none of which AMY-NW has now, he said.

In response to a question whether the school could be moved to the now-vacant building that formerly housed Ada Lewis Middle School (map) on Stenton Avenue and thus kept in the neighborhood, Montgomery said, “The numbers are staggering” to repair that building – over $50 million. “Levering is the closest and nicest building,” he said.

A number of parents mentioned that one reason they chose AMY-NW for their children was the relatively small, intimate size of the school and its programs. “We don’t want to lose that closeness – that’s what we’re concerned about,” said one.

Montgomery said that no expansion of the school was planned for the first year in its proposed new location. “After that we can examine if we can expand the program.”

While parents seemed to generally like what they heard of AMY-NW’s proposed new building, they returned repeatedly to the problems of transportation for their children. Wu said that the District had “geo-coded” – mapped the location of their homes – of all current students.

“We’ll look at that and develop a reasonable [transportation] plan based on where students live.” Among the options being studied would be SEPTA transpasses for some students and shuttle buses for others that would pick up and deliver students to a central location such as the school’s current building at Upsal and Ardleigh streets.

“One parent asked, “Why don’t you have a plan now?” adding “That would solve a lot of problems. It should be phase one, not phase three.”

Montgomery emphasized that the transportation and busing plans would be designed specifically to serve the needs of those students currently attending AMY-NW.

The next step, said Montgomery, would be to add the feedback received at this meeting, one of 17 scheduled around the city through the next several weeks. The feedback will be incorporated into a final draft of the Facilities Master Plan, which will be presented to the School Reform Commission in January. “The final decision will probably be made in late March,” he said.

For more information about the Facilities Master Plan visit www.philasd.org/fmp. For questions call 215-400-6464 or e-mail to fmp.philasd.org.

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