William Penn High demolition moving forward

Starting this summer, a building that served the Yorktown community for nearly 40 years will be leveled and repurposed as part of Temple’s master plan in construction and development during the next five years.

Demolition of the William Penn High School building, at Broad and Master streets, is planned to start before Labor Day this year, said Jim Creedon, senior vice president for construction, facilities and operations.

In an exclusive interview with The Temple News last October, Athletic Director Kevin Clark said construction of the new facilities at William Penn would be finalized in 12-18 months, following the same timeline President Theobald and Mayor Michael Nutter set for the East Park Canoe Rowhouse when they announced plans for renovation of the site in February 2014.

Temple bought the William Penn property from the School District of Philadelphia for $15 million last June. The building, which has been vacant since it closed in 2010, will be torn down, and the area will be converted into athletic fields and a job training center.

The administration decided demolition was necessary to redevelop the site, and the proposal was approved by the Philadelphia Planning Commission in February.

“It is of a design that I don’t think you would ever use for an educational operation before,” Creedon said. “It doesn’t lend itself to a fast renovation. It would need a lot of work.”

The building, which opened in 1973, has design problems and decay, and “looked like it closed in 1970,” Creedon added.

Temple administration has already begun work on the next step of the process.

“In order to do the demolition, you have to prepare permitting and actually a specification to the contractor,” Creedon said. “But then we’ll also begin the design for the next phase.”

Creedon said the next phase, and the main athletic department priority, is the soccer complex. The soccer teams currently play games at Temple’s Ambler Sports Complex. The new complex at William Penn is set to be completed by Fall  2016, Creedon said.

“[President] Theobald said, as part of the master-planning process, we wanted to have soccer back on campus,” Creedon said.

Other fields built on the William Penn property may be used by the women’s lacrosse and women’s track & field teams, as well as for intramural and club sports.

The job training center will be a collaborative effort between Temple and the Laborers’ District Council’s Education and Training/Apprenticeship Fund. The LDC is composed of several different labor unions in Philadelphia, Norristown and Chester.

“They will provide literally hands-on training, like scaffold building, equipment operation and safety training,” Creedon said. “Temple will be there as a collaborative partner on things like GED preparation, college prep preparation, English as a second language and specialized math and writing courses.”

These services will be made available to members of the unions that make up the Laborers’ District Council.

Last July, The Temple News reported that the sale of William Penn was opposed by the William Penn Development Coalition. The coalition argued that the School Reform Commission had blocked its efforts to purchase the school since 2009, and tried to delay the decision by way of an injunction.

In 2013, the city assessed the high school for $32.5 million – but since the school district borrowed $57 million last year to offset a budget gap, the price was set at $15 million.

State Rep. Curtis Thomas, a Democrat whose 181st district encompasses both Temple and William Penn, told The Temple News that the school district made a mistake.

“If the school district of Philadelphia needed money and they needed it right away, why would you take $15 million when you can get $32 million?” Thomas said.

The coalition’s injunction was taken to the state’s Supreme Court in August of last year, where it was denied, allowing Temple to continue planning for the building’s demolition. Creedon said Temple’s goal is to start demolition and redevelopment of the school in August.

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jack.tomczuk@temple.edu.

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