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City Council has its own plans for selling closed schools

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

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at PlanPhilly.

by Jared Brey for PlanPhilly

Less than two weeks after the Nutter Administration announced a comprehensive plan for selling and reusing closed school buildings, City Council held a press conference to describe its own plan, which involves the immediate transfer of $50 million to the School District in exchange for the District’s unused properties.

Speaking in Council chambers, Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said that the plan is necessary to keep the public schools open for the rest of the school year, which began Monday.

Council President Darrell Clarke said that legislation would be introduced in Council on Thursday morning offering the transfer of the money to the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID), which would then purchase the buildings from the District.

Council’s plan calls for PAID to sell the properties and to give back to the city the first $50 million that they net. If they earn more than $50 million, the surplus would be given to the School District. The plan gives the School District the right to ask for the unsold properties back after the $50 million figure is reached or to allow PAID to continue selling them for the District.

The plan also calls for stacking incentives — in the form of Community Development Block Grants, tax abatements, and affordable housing subsidies from the Philadelphia Housing Authority — on school properties that don’t generate immediate interest from private developers.

In documentation distributed during the press conference, Council said it is aware of active private interest in eight school properties with a combined assessed value of $106 million.

The properties that have “active expressions of interest,” according to Council:

  • Stephen Douglas High School, 2700 E. Huntingdon St.
  • Abigail Vare Elementary, 1621 E. Moyamensing Ave.
  • Joseph Leidy Elementary, 1301 Belmont Ave.
  • Charles Drew Elementary, 11-83 N. 38th St.
  • Anna Shaw Middle School, 5401 Warrington Ave.
  • University City High School, 3601 Filbert St.
  • Alexander Wilson Elementary, 4514-22 Woodland Ave.
  • William Penn High School, 1301 N. Broad St.

During the press conference, Third District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell spoke about the importance of Council members being involved in the disposition of schools.

“We know what communities like and what they will accept,” Blackwell said.

Nutter’s plan calls for dividing the properties into high, middle, and low levels of marketability, with different sales processes for each level. It also calls for structured community engagement around the potential reuses of less marketable properties. Council President Clarke said that there would be “no way” to sell properties the size of the closed school buildings without community involvement.

It’s not entirely clear why Council and the administration weren’t able to develop a plan together. Their attitudes have differed drastically over the question of how to provide the School District with the $50 million that it says it needs immediately. Council has favored selling the school buildings as a way to raise the funds, while Nutter has favored borrowing the money and giving it directly to the District.

The Nutter administration had been working since the spring on a schools disposition plan that was not intended to provide the District with immediate funding, but to anticipate the responsible reuse of closed school buildings in order to prevent them from turning into blight. It announced the details of that plan two weeks ago, and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said the city expected to issue a Request for Proposals for the highest-value properties shortly. Greenberger could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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