West Oak Lane Charter School is expanding

The West Oak Lane Charter School will soon be expanding its walls and student body.

City government and state officials this week joined staff and students at the Stenton Avenue locale to ceremoniously break ground on a multi-million dollar expansion that will nearly double the school’s physical plant and significantly increase enrollment.

The $16 million, 65,000 square-foot project, which officially kicked-off the first week of January, will enable the school to take its K-8 student population from 747 students to well over 850 over the next three years and max out its original charter capacity of 1100 in the next five. New teachers will also be hired during that span.

Additionally, the project will for the first time place everyone – students, teachers and administration – under one roof. Students are currently spread out among three buildings, including a former storefront across the street from the school’s main entrance.

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“To have us all in one building will just be absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Debbera Peoples-Lee, the school’s CEO for nearly six years.

In particular, the expansion will house 45 classrooms, a new library and literacy center, two computer labs and a gymnasium, among other things.

It’s scheduled to be completed in September before the start of the next school year.

During Monday’s ceremony, Mayor Michael Nutter applauded the expansion as an example of the types of investments that help spur economic development and stabilize communities.

“There’s no better way to revitalize the community than investing in education,” said Nutter to the students and staff that filled the school’s shared cafeteria and gymnasium space.

Nutter added that students can show their appreciation for the investment by showing up to school each day and, down the road, returning to contribute to the community.

“Give a day, give an hour, give a week to this charter school. Open a business in this community,” he said.

Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), whose district includes the school, echoed Nutter’s sentiments and told students the project came as a result of their hard work.

“Because of you getting A’s [the expansion] becomes a worthwhile investment,” said Evans.

Nutter and Evans were also joined by Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco and State Representative Cherelle Parker. The event was hosted by Jack Kitchen, CEO and President of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, who along with Evans has been instrumental in the school’s 13-year history.

Afterwards, Peoples-Lee, who was raised in the West Oak Lane area, said she is looking forward to securing the school’s role as a neighborhood anchor.

“When people move to a community they want decent housing, they want no violence and they want a good education system to send their children too and I think we’re definitely providing that leg of it,” she said.

The expansion, located on the site of the former West Oak Lane Shopping Center, will be primarily financed through a $9 million loan secured by OARC through Fulton Bank and a $5 million bridge loan from the state. The remainder is coming from the combination of a real estate and equity loan, also secured by the CDC.

The project is the organization’s most expensive to date.

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