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Drexel and School District of Philadelphia Break Ground on Facility for K-8 Public Schools in West Philadelphia

Members and partners in the SLAMS/Powel facility initiative break ground

December 9, 2019

Drexel University and The School District of Philadelphia held a ceremonial groundbreaking today for a building that will house two public schools in West Philadelphia. The School District of Philadelphia will lease the building from Drexel and the facility will house both the Samuel Powel Elementary School, currently at 36th Street and Powelton Avenue, and the Science Leadership Academy Middle School, which opened in 2016 at Drexel's Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships and recently moved into a space at 3600 Market Street.

“With this transformational development, we are a creating a foundation of learning for generations to come, and expanding the vision of innovation and inclusive opportunity for all those in our community,” said John Fry, Drexel president. “And in working with the School District to make this a reality — together with our funders the Lenfest Foundation, Ventas, PECO, and the very generous tax credit partners — we see yet another example of the power of partnerships.”

The $42 million school project is funded through a combination of private and public funding secured by Drexel, aided by generous contributions from the Lenfest Foundation, PECO and Ventas, a leading real estate investment trust. Additional funds were received from other public sources, including New Market Tax Credits and $7 million from the School District of Philadelphia. Thanks to the efforts of PA Sen. Vincent Hughes, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has also authorized the release of $3 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding for the new facility.

"As we fight the fight to clean and repair our broken and toxic schools, I must applaud Drexel University for leading the way and showing how corporate and philanthropic engagement can make a difference,” said Hughes. “Drexel has laid out a model for civic engagement with the Powel/Science Leadership Academy School. We need others to follow its lead. I am glad to have worked with Gov. Tom Wolf to secure state funding for the construction of this 21st century school."

In May 2019 Drexel entered into an agreement with developer Wexford Science and Technology for the development of the 87,000-square-foot, two-story building. Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers is responsible for the design, with Andropogon Associates, Ltd. as landscape architects. BSI Construction, LLC will oversee construction at the site.

Rendering of the SLAMS-Powel facilty at dusk
Credit: Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers

“As a large, long-term real estate owner in the uCity Square knowledge community, Ventas is proud to invest in expanding the West Philadelphia academic ecosystem. The new facility will allow students to learn in a dynamic environment and then go on to create, research and share their diversity of ideas and experiences,” said Debra A. Cafaro, Ventas chairman and CEO.

The School District will lease the space from Drexel for $12 a year for 35 years. The new building is scheduled to open in 2021, and the District has agreed to pay operational costs for running the building, plus making some capital improvements and repairs. The middle school is expected to move into the building in January 2021 and occupy the second floor while the Powel school will occupy the first floor and most likely move into the building in the summer of the same year.

"We want to ensure that students throughout the city have access to the educational experiences that are going to help them be successful after they graduate," said William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D., superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. "Here in West Philadelphia, we are seeing a real need in the community for a strengthened K-8 continuum. We are excited that students at Powel and SLAMS will have the opportunity to learn in such a modernized facility and are grateful for the continued support of Drexel."

Drexel facilitated the purchase of the former University City High School site from the School District in 2013, in partnership with Wexford, with the intention of building a school facility to accommodate an overcrowded Powel and the new SLAMS on one of the site’s parcels.

The K-8 facility is the result of a planning effort that began in 2012 with a planning grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership. The grant supported planning for the expansion of Powel and the creation of Science Leadership Academy Middle School. PSP provided a second grant to Inquiry Schools to support the opening in 2016 of the Science Leadership Academy Middle School. SLAMS, led by Founding Principal Tim Boyle, has no admissions requirements and serves primarily as the neighborhood catchment school for the Powel school, led by Principal Kimberly Ellerbee.

Through Drexel’s School of Education, a dedicated coordinator will make continuing connections to the University. Drexel will offer expertise in technology and instruction, media arts and design, performing arts, information sciences and health. The School of Education will also offer professional development for teachers and enrichment programming for the students in high need areas as identified by the principals.

Media Contact:
Niki Gianakaris