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At long last, a new Willard School opens

Photo: Paul Socolar

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

The School District held its ceremonial bell-ringing for the new year at the brand new Frances E. Willard Elementary School on Elkhart St. in Kensington, celebrating the opening of arguably the District’s longest-overdue and most desperately needed building replacement.

Conversations about the need for a new building for Willard date back to the 1970s, and District officials acknowledged that active planning for this new facility started 15 years ago. The project repeatedly stalled out, but pressure from neighborhood activists kept it on the agenda.

Welcoming parents to the "beautiful, beautiful building," Superintendent Arlene Ackerman observed, "It’s been a community effort to get this school open."

Ackerman acknowledged the combined efforts of Rev. Donald T. Graff of the Free Church of St. John and Willard parent activists affiliated with the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, which organized several public actions when the project was delayed.

"The project did slip off the list" of planned capital improvments at one point, Graff said. There were repeated delays in identifying an appropriate site, acquiring the land, and then dealing with the discovery that the chosen site, a former city playground, contained remnants of a 19th century cemetery and so remains had to be exhumed.

The new building, built at a cost of $30 million, accommodates 850 students in grades K-5,and includes a cafeteria, a gym, an auditorium, and a library – none of which the old building had. Facilities also include 29 classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab, an art studio, and a music room, as well as two play areas.

Also opening today is the new facility for the Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts.

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