Drexel to buy University City High and Drew; K-8 complex, residential and retail planned

Posted on 26 February 2014

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.

Mike Lyons

8 Comments For This Post

  1. Oklahoma Says:

    I think this is a positive step in rebuilding Powelton Village and Mantua. The University is doing their part in revitalizing a community that needs and deserves attention.

  2. El Chapo Says:

    I agree; I was particularly pleased to read about K-8.

  3. Ben Says:

    Hmm. “Expanding the tax base.” Does this mean that Drexel will pay City property taxes on the portion of this land and its improved structures that generate income?

  4. ken Says:

    No Ben, it means that more people will be employed remodeling, constructing, running and maintaining a new facility.

  5. mds chill Says:

    I think it primarily means making the neighborhood more attractive to families.

  6. Ben Says:

    When 14 acres in the City is transferred to a non tax paying entity, I do not consider that expanding the tax base.

  7. Scott Buchanan Says:

    Ben, it would be great if the schools would make more of a contribution along the lines of PILOT, but this project should be a net expansion of the tax base. The PSD didn’t pay taxes when they owned the property, so there’s no property tax reduction, and the added jobs and retail will bring at least some new revenue. It would be great if they have some policy to first encourage hiring existing residents the nearby neighborhoods, or where that’s not viable, encouraging employees to move to the neighborhood. What we don’t need is more commuters who abandon the neighborhood when they leave the office.

  8. Scott Buchanan Says:

    I just realized I replied to a nearly year old comment… Whoops.

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