The Nutter Administration announced in a press release Thursday morning that, in cooperation with the School District and the School Reform Commission, it has developed a plan to sell and reuse up to 31 closed public school buildings in Philadelphia.
The plan will involve a process of community engagement for input on potential uses of individual buildings, as well as identifying those buildings that would be likeliest to sell for immediate cash for the School District, which is deeply underfunded as it heads into the new school year. The plan will govern buildings that are deemed “unused and unnecessary”—not those which the School District believes are viable for its own reuse.
For each closed school building, the team implementing the reuse plan—which includes Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger’s office, the Mayor’s Office of Education, the School District and the School Reform Commission—will analyze market conditions such as neighboring property values and access to amenities, the physical condition and history of the building itself, and factors like zoning and easements, according to the plan.
Buildings will be placed in high-, mid-, and low-level “marketability” categories.
Those in the highest category will go through an expedited sale process, which entails the District issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and reviewing site design plans, proposed uses, offer prices, and other factors. Properties deemed less marketable will be marketed through Requests for Proposals (RFP) for reuse, direct transfers to the city or non-profit organizations, auctions, leases, or “portfolio sales” of multiple properties.
“While any technique will be available for sale and reuse of any property regardless of its Market Value Category,” the plan says, “it is anticipated that those with High-Level Marketability will be sold through the Expedited Sale process, those with Mid-Level Marketability will be conveyed or sold through the modified RFP process, and those with Low-Level Marketability will be conveyed or sold using any of the techniques except the Expedited Sale process.”
The plan also says that the city will maintain a website displaying photographs and information about each closed school property, including zoning classifications, demographic data for the surrounding area, and information about property condition.
The process will involve community input as well. For properties going through the Expedited Sale process, the group managing the sale and reuse plan will consult local Registered Community Organizations and District Council members. For properties that will take more time to sell, the group plans to hold a series of public discussions to solicit ideas about potential reuses and community needs.
The Daily News reported earlier that at least one City Council member, Jim Kenney, felt that the announcement was an attempt to subvert Council President Darrell Clarke’s plan to pay the School District $50 million for empty buildings and make that money back through sales over time. Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger pointed out that the Administration and the School District have been developing this reuse plan since early spring.
“The School District—everybody—has an interest in moving these properties as quickly and responsibly as possible,” Greenberger said.
Late last year, a handful of closed school properties sold for disappointing sums. In the spring, a studio at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, led by Harris Steinberg of PennPraxis, developed a model for reusing empty school buildings. The plan announced on Thursday is similar to that plan in a number of ways, including the three-tiered marketing strategy and the focus on community engagement for the properties that are deemed more difficult to sell.
Greenberger said he hadn’t had any “detailed discussions” with members of Council recently about the reuse and sale of closed school properties. He expects the city to release a list of properties considered highly marketable in the next several weeks, along with a Request for Qualifications from potential buyers or developers. Greenberger would not indicate which properties are likely to be on that list; ideally, he said, those properties would be purchased by the buyer directly from the School District.
Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016.