A science-based charter school plans to build near the Tacony waterfront

A science-based K-12 Charter School hopes to build a new campus near the Delaware River in Tacony.

Tacony Academy Charter got one step closer to its planned 130,000-square foot school for 1,075 students at this week’s Philadelphia City Planning Commission meeting, where commissioners approved an amendment to the master plan for the 12.7 acre Waterfront Redevelopment District at Princeton, Milner and Delaware Avenue, allowing a school to be built within it. The vacant site is near, but not on the waterfront – it backs up to the fish and boat commission boat launch.

The amendment still needs the approval of city council, which is on summer recess.

PCPC Planner Martin Gregorski said staff contemplated changing the zoning of the area. “Why keep it as a waterfront redevelopment district if there’s a school going in?” he rhetorically asked, then answered his own question: Other developments have been proposed for the site, and have fallen through. So, the current zoning stays, just in case.

Case in point: Tacony Pointe. Back in 2006, approval was given to build this massive housing development, with self-contained streets and about 532 dwellings, Gregorski said. It never happened.

In addition to classrooms, the proposed school would have science labs, a gym, a cafeteria and library. There would be athletic fields and green space on the outside. There would be 175 parking places, and separate bus and car drop-off areas. Some portion of the building will sport a green roof.

“Have other sites been looked at for this school?” Commissioner Nilda Ruiz asked. She said she wasn’t certain a school was the best use for a site so near the water, and hoped that years from now, people wouldn’t question how a school got there, in the same way they question the Target and Walmart on the Delaware in South Philadelphia.

Stacey L. Cruise, a founder of Tacony Academy and executive director of First Philadelphia Paradigm , the organization that was awarded the charter to operate the school in 2009, said the site is ideal.

When the charter was awarded, “We had to pledge we would serve children from the Tacony community, which is a very, very densely populated area … with very little space for a structure as big as what we need,” she said.

Beyond the fact that large locations are hard to come by, Cruise said the location is also perfect for the school’s curriculum. “We want our children to be scientists,” she said.”This location close to the water allows all kinds of exploration opportunities for our students.”

Also, the green space would provide an excellent place to play for students from a congested neighborhood, she said.

Commission Vice Chairman Joseph Syrnick said a school was “a good use compared to a lot of other uses” that could go there. He liked the green space it would provide, and noted that the riverfront trail constructed by the Delaware River City Corporation “works well in back of it.” 

Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer said a school might trigger residential development near by.

Ruiz was convinced. The vote to support the change was unanimous.

Tacony Academy is currently leasing space in Rhawnhurst on Rhawn Street, in the former Orleans Technical School.

Contact the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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