Sold, almost – Germantown Settlement Charter School buildings have a bidder

The fate of a key property among the dozens involved in the Germantown Settlement bankruptcy drama played out in a brisk auction in a hotel ballroom Thursday, as the housing agency’s assets are liquidated.

Real estate and mortgage investor Charles Smith’s company, C.L. Smith Enterprises, could soon take ownership of the 8.5-acre campus of the former Germantown Settlement Charter School. Smith, who described himself as a businessman originally based in the Poconos area but with interests nationwide, now has 10 business days to close the sale.

Smith was the high bidder at $810,000, on an original $3.5 million loan held by Prudential Capital Markets for the property at 4807-15 Germantown Ave.

Greater Germantown Educational Development Inc., a subsidiary of Germantown Settlement which had run a charter school on the property, hasn’t paid on the mortgage since 2008. The education wing of the politically connected community development agency declared bankruptcy in March 2010 to avoid foreclosure on the school.

Smith said he intends to take ownership of the property and would like to see another school or educational use for the site. He plans to reach out to community members for their input, he said.

“It’s tragic, really, what has happened at that school [property],” Smith said. “I want to leave this just for the children. I want this property to do something for the community.”

The auction fetched a bit more than the roughly $500,000 the company running the auction, Racebrook Marketing Concepts, had predicted. The successful bidder was required to post a non-refundable $50,000 cashiers check to secure their high bid.

Originally a Catholic church, school and convent, the property includes two education buildings, an administration building and sanctuary annex, and a former convent. Built over several decades from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s, the school campus buildings are in various states of repair and will require extensive cleanup. The auction sale was for the site in as-is condition.

The charter school closed in 2009, leaving one tenant on the site. New Directions for Women, Inc., a alternative correctional facility, opened at the site in 1989 and maintains a 25-bed residential facility.

With the situation on the Germantown Avenue site in flux, New Directions has made plans to move to a building nearby at 4649 Wakefield St. There, New Directions would grow to 36 beds in an 18,000 square-foot former industrial building.

Some in the neighborhood have protested the move — including neighbor Ted Stones, whose backyard would face the facility. Others have taken issue with the move, fearing the neighborhood becoming a dumping ground for social services institutions.

New Directions has said it still intends to move to the site, and has the support of the Wister Neighborhood Advisory Council in its efforts.

“New Directons for Women has been our neighbor for the last 22 years; most people didn’t even know they were there,” said Debra White-Roberts, director of operations for Wister NAC. “I’m looking at it as a good neighbor is being forced to move, because of the Germantown Settlement bankruptcy.”

The Germantown Avenue campus is among dozens of properties owned or controlled by Germantown Settlement and its subsidiaries, many in distressed parts of Lower Germantown. As for what should happen at the site now, White-Roberts said it’s hard to know where to begin.

“That’s one of maybe about 50 or so properties they left in that condition, so we have to look holistically,” she said. Another school would be ideal, as would much-needed recreation facilities, according to Roberts.

“We’re lacking so much that I couldn’t even begin to think about one thing or another at this point,” she said.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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