The plot that Drexel plans to buy includes University City High School and Drew Elementary School.
Drexel University is set to substantially expand its footprint north of Market Street with the tentative purchase of the 14-acre property where the shuttered University City High School and Drew Elementary School currently stand. Drexel plans to build residential housing, retail space and, most importantly, a K-8 school complex.
Drexel’s plan was outlined in broad terms during a meeting Wednesday night at West Philadelphia High School to announce that the university was the winning bidder on the property, one of seven properties the School District of Philadelphia has for sale. The School Reform Commission is expected to approve the sale during its March 20 meeting.
Drexel’s plan for the site includes an expanded Powel Elementary School, which currently serves students in K-4, and a Science Leadership Academy (SLA) middle school. If approved, the site would be the first middle school for SLA, the acclaimed magnet school that has a campus in Center City that works closely with the Franklin Institute and a nascent high school program in the Beeber Middle School building in the Overbrook neighborhood.
Officials stressed that the plans are very tentative and are subject to several community meetings and the city zoning process. The terms of the purchase, including a possible price, has not been announced.
About 100 people attended the meeting, including members of the Powelton Village Civic Association and the Mantua Civic Association. The responses to the announcement ranged from relief to indignation.
“The community coming into this was very nervous,” said George Poulin of the Powelton Village Civic Association. “But we are excited about the possibilities of the site.”
The Powelton Village neighborhood would benefit the most from the project, particularly from an expanded Powel School.
Mantua residents, whose children lost their high school when University City High closed, questioned whether the project would help them.
“We don’t know where our community is heading,” said Terry Wrice, a University City High graduate and son of famed city activist Herman Wrice. “Our kids are all over the place.”
High school students from Mantua have been assigned to West Philadelphia High School, where many have experienced confrontations with students from other neighborhoods.
Lucy Kerman, Drexel’s vice provost for University and Community Partnerships, said the university has no plans to include a high school on the site.
“Our commitment has been to support the existing school and that means Powel,” she said during the meeting. “Our vision is in the K-8 space.”
The site will also include residential housing. “It will not be dormitories,” said Bob Francis, Drexel’s vice president of University Facilities.
Francis said the retail would be “small and locally organized.”
“We see ourselves as participating in the recovery of West Philadelphia,” Francis said. “This is about improving the tax base and bringing in jobs.”
Drexel’s push further north into West Philadelphia neighborhoods has increased under president John Fry. Fry, of course, was one of the key architects of the University of Pennsylvania’s initiatives west of 40th Street, including the construction of the Penn Alexander School, while he was executive vice president of Penn from 1995 to 2002.
Residents will have many opportunities to weigh in on the project at different stages. The next chance is the March 20 meeting of the SRC. Click here for information on registering to speak at that meeting. The deadline to register is 4:30 p.m. on March 19.