Planning Neglected in Philadelphia's High School Fire Sale

Inga Saffron asks the tough questions of Philadelphia's sale of University City High School to Drexel University.

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron has strong words about the potential implications of the recent sale of University City High School to Drexel University: "Goodness knows, Philadelphia's school district needs to sell its surplus buildings so it can afford to open its remaining schools in the fall, ideally with a full complement of nurses and counselors. But should its money troubles trump everything else the city wants to achieve: livable neighborhoods, affordable housing, pedestrian-friendly design, meaningful open space, a respect for its own history?"

"Nothing highlights the harsh reality of this single-minded quest for cash as much as this week's battle royal over the sale of the University City High School on Drexel University's western border. Sitting on 14 acres of land, it's the most valuable property in the district's sales portfolio, and one of the largest sites. Based on their push to fast-track approvals, Mayor Nutter and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke see only dollar signs when they look at that dour '70s-era fortress."

The problem with the sale, according to Saffron, is that no planning process guided the sale of the site, already a result of the negative consequences of "urban renewal" efforts of the late 1960s: "Because the city has been taking a relentlessly transactional approach to policy-making lately, the site was put up for sale as though it were nothing more than a used car. Little thought was given to the best use for that publicly owned site: There were no planning studies done, no goals articulated, no guidelines established."

For more details on Drexel's proposed $1 billion redevelopment of the site (Drexel and partner developer James R. Berens' Wexford Science & Technology LLC paid $25.15 million for the 14-acre site), see another article by Joseph N. DiStefano.

Full Story: Changing Skyline: City ought not rush into sale of school buildings


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