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Temple’s plans for William Penn High: Athletic fields and a union training center… At some point

Welcome to “What ever happened with,” Billy Penn’s ongoing series that will look at older stories that may have been forgotten about or otherwise not followed up on. Whether it’s a delayed development project or an unsolved murder mystery, “What ever happened with” strives to tell you what’s up with that Philly thing that fell out of the headlines.

For five years, William Penn High School has been something of an eyesore on North Broad Street. No one’s fixed it up and inside it’s pretty bleak — but there are still signs, bulletin boards and photos there that show what it once was.

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Temple University swooped in last summer to purchase the 14-acre property at the intersection of Master and Broad to much protest by community members in the surrounding area. And since the sale closed on Sept. 5 for just $15 million (well below the $25M Drexel spent buying a district school), Temple has yet to start construction or demolition on the property.

In fact, Temple says it’s still in the “preliminary” planning stages of what to do with the property, and Temple spokesman Brandon Lausch said Temple “hopes” to start construction by summer 2015. While the school sits idle, Temple continues to move forward with other plans for the university that include a massive new library and a central quad that are already deep in the planning phase and include renderings of what’s to come. According to Temple’s Campus Development Master Plan, the development of the William Penn High School site is No. 11 of 12 projects slated to take place over the next five years.

The plan for what to do with the space is three-fold:

  1. Temple is going to use part of the space to work in collaboration with the Laborers’ District Council Education & Training Center’s Apprenticeship Training Program, or LDC, which organizes training programs for members of local unions.
  1. The university plans to construct a number of athletic fields for the men’s and women’s soccer teams (both who currently play in Ambler), as well as women’s lacrosse and women’s track and field.
  1. In addition to those, the school hopes to construct more fields and space for student recreation for club and intramural use.

Lausch said Temple hasn’t nailed down exactly how many fields are going to be constructed on the site, but said that demolition of part of the building is going to be necessary. He said it’s unclear whether the partnership with LDC will use the existing structure, or if the whole thing will demolished in favor of a new building.

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William Penn High School was closed temporarily in 2009, and at the time, then-Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said the building would re-open in five years as a career and technical training center for district students, according to the Inquirer.

Despite that, last year the School Reform Commission declared the building unused, and put it up for sale as the school grappled with a worsening financial situation. Members of the Yorktown neighborhood came out last summer to protest Temple’s purchase of the site, saying that the construction of stadiums will devalue their properties.

Lausch said Temple’s Office of Public Affairs is working with community members as it would on any other project, and the SRC has stood behind the purchase.

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