This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Franklin Learning Center is the latest Philadelphia public school to be closed due to the discovery of damaged asbestos, this time in an air shaft that connects the attic to the fan room and is important in heating the building.
The District’s Office of Environmental Management and Services sent a letter home with students Tuesday saying that it had “identified an imminent hazard involving damage to asbestos-containing pipe insulation. … In an abundance of caution, and because the air shaft impacts our ability to heat the building,” the school will close until Jan. 2.
The neoclassical building, originally William Penn High School for Girls, was built in 1909-10.
Franklin Learning Center (FLC) serves grades 9-12 at 15th and Green Streets in Spring Garden. That’s just a block away from Benjamin Franklin High School, which has been closed since the beginning of the school year due to asbestos dust disturbed during renovations that split the building for joint use with Science Leadership Academy. The 1,000 students who attend the two schools have been taking classes elsewhere.
The letter said that abatement work at FLC would occur during the winter break, with results made available on the District’s website.
The action drew support from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), which has long tussled with District officials over its response to unhealthy building conditions.
In a statement, PFT president Jerry Jordan said that he recently toured the building after his members alerted him to a potential hazard.
“Following my visit, I spoke with [Superintendent] Dr. [William] Hite to urge immediate action. The situation at FLC is emblematic of the emergency conditions in far too many of our school buildings,” Jordan said. “Today’s discovery reflects both the progress we have made and the deeply flawed system in which we are operating.”
He said the District’s quick action to close the building “was the correct decision” and reflected a new responsiveness, especially in comparison to what happened in November at T.M. Peirce School in North Philadelphia, where reported hazards were not immediately dealt with. The District relocated students only after parental pressure.
“For the first time in recent memory, the District quickly reported to us the discovery of an immediate environmental hazard and committed to collaborate with us on a plan for swift remediation. However, it is problematic that our recommendation to conduct this assessment was made months ago and only just took place,” Jordan’s statement said.
The PFT has a Healthy Schools Tracker App through which members can report troubling building conditions, and, Jordan said, “the sheer volume of reported concerns from FLC … is extremely troubling,” with 50 submissions in the last seven months “and only one reported as resolved by the District. Reported problems include asbestos concerns, mold and mildew, crumbling walls and damaged lead paint, and thermal control deficiencies. These issues are serious and require thorough and immediate remediation.
“Let me be clear: The District’s response today was the right one. It stands in stark contrast to the response at T.M. Peirce School, and it is hopefully indicative of lessons learned. However, for too long, our students and faculty at FLC have been exposed to potentially life-threatening conditions. Further, the asbestos remediation efforts that will soon be underway will address only a fraction of the concerns we have with the learning and working conditions within the building.”
PFT has joined with a coalition demanding more investment of $100 million for lead and asbestos remediation. A rally is planned for Wednesday in Harrisburg seeking more funds for this purpose.
The plan is for FLC students to return on Jan. 2, when a District representative will be there to answer questions.
People can get more information at www.philasd/healthyschools, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 215-400-4750.
The District also issued a statement: “Supporting clean, safe and welcoming learning environments in every school is a top priority for the District. We are committed to getting this right and providing our teachers and students with the schools they deserve.”