McQuade: Purchase Penn High

Temple should push to acquire the abdandoned William Penn High School property.

It’s nearly impossible to walk through an area on campus that isn’t sprawling with cranes lifting high wooden beams or the seemingly unavoidable sounds of construction work – the buzzes of drills, the smashing of blocks and the occasional screaming of, “Get over here!”

If plans go through, Temple will have yet another building to add to its collection. But you can let your ears settle – there will be no noise this time.

William Penn High School, one of more than 30 properties the School District of Philadelphia is looking to sell in order to lessen its deficit, has caught Temple’s attention.

Why does Temple need it? With a student population that has been steadily increasing over the past few years and a particularly entrepreneurial administration, the university has set itself as a major bidder on local properties.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Washington-based firm offered $100 million for all of the available buildings, surpassing the initial $50 million threshold the city hopes to raise.

But the firm’s offer represents a disconnect between the two cities – after all, they are more than 100 miles apart.

If the Washington firm were to purchase the property, it doesn’t seem like it would be able to dedicate time and energy to all of the properties without being neglectful of at least one.

On the other hand, if Temple, whose bid is limited to one property, purchases the land, there is a much greater chance that both the neighborhood and the university would benefit.

It’s also a great chance for Temple to help the school district, albeit indirectly.

Jim Creedon, the senior vice president for construction, facilities and operations, said that as of Nov. 14, the school district had not begun the process and the university has yet to officially submit a bid.

For Temple, the purchase would symbolize another chance to showcase the uniqueness of Visualize Temple, the university’s suggestion-based website for primarily physical renovations.

“[Temple would] certainly use input from Visualize Temple – both big and small,” Creedon said.

However, if the university were to consider student housing, there would be a slight conflict – according to a Philadelphia City Council-issued ordinance, the North Central Philadelphia Special District Controls, Yorktown, the neighborhood William Penn is located near, bars tenants from building “multiple-family dwellings, apartment houses and tenement houses,” among a list of other prohibitions, in order to “sustain and promote single-family residential uses” and “to prevent declining property values.” In this case, it wouldn’t be shocking to expect the waves of controversy that would ensue.

In order to strengthen the “educational and extracurricular life” of its students, as Temple’s mission statement states, an expansion would only make sense. If the Washington firm, faced with a skeptical school district, does aim to purchase all of the properties, Temple should vie for this building that could be used to fulfill the needs associated with a growing student population, campus and economic influence.

If Temple fails to acquire the 13-acre high school, it could be some time before another property as large as it arrives. In this case, if future plans were to be enacted, there would be no building and only a plan.

But for now it seems there’s only a building in sight but no plans, causing some students to feel as if Temple should focus on renovations of buildings it already uses.

Amber Burns, a junior public relations major, said that instead of purchasing a new property, the university should “spend more time renovating the [academic buildings] we already have instead of buying new ones, because the older ones are the ones that need help, not new buildings that will leave the older ones even more ignored.”

“Older buildings discourage people because of the preconceived notions of Temple’s area,” said Alison Curran, a student in the School of Media and Communication. “Better looking buildings would give the feel that they care more about the university.”

But these new buildings are the very image-builders and signs that the public and prospective students look for. When students see these new buildings – Morgan Hall, Alter Hall or the still-in-construction Science Education and Research Center – they forget the older aura of Anderson Hall or Gladfelter Hall and instead focus on the grandiose stature of the new buildings.

As the School District of Philadelphia prepares itself for a region-wide auction, Temple awaits, as do its students, with hope that it will have another property that could benefit the university. William Penn’s acres – adorned with the past adventures of so many students – can once again be turned into diamonds.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at

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