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Willard School proponents may finally have their site

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The city and School District are reportedly finalizing an agreement that will provide the District with a site for the long-awaited replacement for Willard Elementary School in Kensington.

Angry that this proposed project has been stalled since the 1990s, parents and community members organized through the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP) have been pressing for the new school to be built on a city-owned former recreation center site, which was also once a cemetery. The project had been held up for months by city-District negotiations, with the city wanting to charge the District for its land and the District facing the costly process of removing human remains from the abandoned cemetery.

Meanwhile, over 700 students housed at Willard face substandard conditions in a century-old building (plus two annexes and a trailer), with restrooms only in the basement and with no cafeteria, library, or gym.

EPOP leader Carmen Rivera, a parent of two recent Willard graduates who lives down the street from the school, said nothing has come easily in the struggle to get a new school built. She said the District and City Hall are both mistrusted in her neighborhood.

“They have been playing games with our community – and it’s because this is Kensington, a really low-income neighborhood,” Rivera said. “But this (new school) is something that all children deserve.”

“We are here, prepared to push them until it’s done,” she added.

Once the land is acquired, the District’s capital budget does include $39 million for construction of the new Willard over the next two years.