West Philadelphia High School is an age-old institution in West Philadelphia, as its name suggests. It is, also, going through many transitions. Recently, the School District of Philadelphia has decided to change the management and curriculum by converting West Philadelphia High into a Renaissance school, because the school performs well below the School District average on the state PSSA tests and has had problems with violence and too many fire alarms. This has been controversial and has caused some students and parents to protest these changes. Amidst all the controversy, recently, about changes at West Philadelphia High, few people realize that one change that is welcome by everyone is a big new school building being built nearby the old one.
The current West Philadelphia High School building opened in 1912 at 47th & Walnut Streets. It is a grand Gothic structure, like so many Philadelphia high school buildings of that time. Over the years, new sections were added to the building, including a more modern gym. However, like many older school buildings, it has become outdated for modern studies. So, school officials and parents decided several years ago that it was time to build a new building somewhere nearby. The selection of the new site took years and many sites were considered. Eventually, a large, four and a half-acre empty lot at 49th & Chestnut Streets was selected for a modern building. That site was once the former home of West Philadelphia Catholic High School, another grand building from the early twentieth century that was demolished a few years ago.
The new high school will be 170,000 square feet on three levels in a modern design by Kelly/Maiello Architects. The classrooms are mostly along 49th Street and the two gyms are along Market Street and the El. The building will have modern classrooms and science labs and is expected to obtain LEED silver certification. The new science labs are of particular interest to the school’s world-renowned Hybrid X automotive program, that has rivaled ivy-league colleges in competitions to create fuel-efficient cars. The building is being designed to focus on three West Philadelphia High School academies: urban leadership, creative and performing arts, and business technology. The school’s library, gyms, and auditorium will be available for community use, with separate entrances for nighttime. The new West Philadelphia High School will open in September for the new 2011/2012 school year.
While a new West Philadelphia High School building won’t solve all the school’s problems, it is an important, and necessary, first step. It helps to further the efforts of the school’s high achievers, such as the Hybrid X team and the students in the various academies. And, it frees up the existing Gothic structure for renovation by a developer into some sort of residential building on Walnut Street, which could net the School District millions of dollars when they sell it for that future use.
The new West Philadelphia High School will, also, have an impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, as people move to those neighborhoods so that their children can attend the improved school and to take advantage of increasing property values. If you’re considering moving to those neighborhoods, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my facebook realtor page, Gabriel G. Philly Realtor. I live nearby in University City, and I am very familiar with the neighborhoods around the new high school building. And, I have pictures and a link to an article from the school district website about the new building here.