Philly school district launches plan to address aging school buildings

The district is eligible for $1.114 billion through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that must be spent by September 2024

By: - March 24, 2022 6:30 am

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA – The School District of Philadelphia launched its Facilities Planning Process, a plan that will address aging school buildings. The district has school buildings with an average age of 70 years.

The new plan replaces the Comprehensive School Planning Review that began in 2019 but was halted in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to families, Superintendent William Hite Jr. said the plan marks a critical step toward children having access to great schools.

“School buildings play a crucial role in supporting student achievement,” Hite said. “We must thoughtfully and proactively plan not only for new school learning environments but for what must be done with our existing school buildings so students have access to educational spaces that spark creativity, support academic programs and meet their 21st-century learning needs.”

Through data sharing and in-person and online community engagement and outreach, district officials will provide feedback on equitable options for the future of its learning environments.

The process will start with school-level assessments led by industry experts that will provide a grade by grade estimate on how populations and communities across the City of Philadelphia are projected to change in the coming years. The district will also take a look at its own building inventory.

Architectural and engineering firm Parsons Environment and Infrastructure Group Inc. will be managing the facility assessment and Facilities Master Plan work.

WXY Studio will lead the community engagement effort and Skai Blue Media will provide strategic communication support to keep school communities informed throughout the process. The facilities data will be shared and finalized on April 26.

“This data will be used to identify the specific challenges our school buildings are facing or are expected to face in the coming years and inform recommendations to address these challenges as part of the district’s long term Facilities Master Plan,” Hite said in the letter.

“This plan, which will be available in the spring of 2023, will prioritize investment spending that aligns learning environments with evolving community, facility and educational needs,” he added.

The district is eligible for $1.114 billion through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that must be spent by September 2024.

It will use $325 million of the stimulus funds over the next four years for facilities improvement as part of a six-year, $2 billion investment.

“Facilities planning is a process we are committed to doing in partnership with our families and school communities,” said Reggie McNeil, School District of Philadelphia chief operations officer in a statement.

“The work we are doing now will be beneficial as we prioritize investment spending that aligns learning environments with evolving community, facility and educational needs,” he added.

District officials will host several community conversations from May 10-25 about how the data will be used during the process and to share feedback on the future decisions of its school facilities.

Final recommendations of investments and facilities needs will be presented to the Board of Education in spring 2023.

For more information on the community conversations, visit www.philasd.org/facilitiesplanning.

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. 

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