Philadelphia school superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced Thursday that students from the two schools displaced by construction problems and the discharge of asbestos will resume classes in new locations Monday.
Benjamin Franklin High School will use the former Khepera Charter School at 926 W. Sedgley St. The school with which it is to share a Spring Garden location, Science Leadership Academy, will adopt a campus model, sending its students to two locations a couple of blocks apart — at School District headquarters, 440 N. Broad St., and Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad.
The Sedgley location will cost the district $70,000 per month to rent, and renting Rodeph Shalom will cost $80,000 through December.
The nearly 1,000 students at both schools are expected to be back in their building along North Broad after winter break.
Relocation became necessary after officials determined asbestos had been discharged in the buildings during the $37 million construction project, which had already been marred by work stoppages over student and staff health concerns.
A task force of students, staff, parents, and district officials have worked nearly nonstop since Monday to secure new locations for classes. Ben Franklin principal Christine Borelli said her school community prioritized staying together in one location and getting into a building as quickly as possible. It also did not want to co-locate with another school.
Stakeholders at SLA, a magnet school attended by students from every city zip code, wanted classes to stay near Center City, near public transit and internship sites. Its students and staff are better able to cope with two locations and will phase in its model beginning Monday, officials said.
Students from both schools will have missed 11 school days.
Shawn Bird, the district’s chief schools officer, said officials will work with the school communities and teachers’ union to determine a plan for students to make up days they missed.
“We’ll develop a plan that’s unique to each campus, because both campuses have unique needs,” Bird said.
At first, the district had proposed that the two schools temporarily relocate their classes to Strawberry Mansion and South Philadelphia High Schools, but both were immediately rejected by parents and students.
The new sites were chosen by the task force and approved by Hite, who again apologized for the district’s mistakes and reiterated that despite some parent calls for his resignation, he’s not rattled.
“This wasn’t about ‘Will I resign or not?’ This is about how do we get children back in school as quickly as possible,” Hite said.
Both principals said they were relieved that new locations have been identified.
“On Monday, I am extremely grateful that we will welcome students back to school and back to the business of teaching and learning,” Borelli said.
After Hite’s announcement, the school board’s finance and facilities committee met, with the Ben Franklin-SLA situation first on its agenda.
Lee Huang, committee chair, said the board had “considerable concerns” over the schools’ situation; he apologized to students, families, and staff. “I will say that we need to do better. We will do better,” Huang said.
“This has been a very sobering 10-day-plus period for the district, and I know for the board,” said President Joyce Wilkerson.
Huang then asked Hite what he would do to make sure this kind of flawed project never happens again.
The superintendent reiterated what he said earlier in the week — that the district lacks the necessary resources to manage multiple construction projects, needs to better oversee companies performing work, and needs to be more transparent.
“One thing I think we have to get better at is communicating facts and accurate information out to communities,” Hite said.
Board members asked city experts who joined the meeting at Hite’s request to speak about the possible health implications for staff and students who have been teaching or learning in the building. Barry Scott, risk manager for the city, said lung conditions, including cancer, are possible with enough exposure over a period of time, but added that it would be years before any disorders develop.
“It would be a wonderful thing if I were able to tell you that this has no health consequences for any of the students or staff that’s in the building,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, I can’t do that.”
Hite emphasized that further environmental tests have been performed at the Ben Franklin building, and that the only area where asbestos fibers were found in concentrations above acceptable levels is the boiler room, which is not occupied by students or staff.