For more than a decade, an unusual, private elementary school for low-income children in North Philadelphia has operated out of shared space at Project HOME's Honickman Learning Center.

On Friday afternoon, the Community Partnership School (CPS) took its first step toward occupying a home of its own with a ground-breaking at 3033 Glenwood Ave. in Strawberry Mansion.

"We're fortunate that for 11-plus years we've been able to partner with Project HOME in one of their locations," Eric C. Jones, head of the Community Partnership School, said before the ceremony. "But the idea of CPS having its own facility has been part of the plan from the beginning."

The school will be housed in a long-vacant former industrial building. Renovations for the $12.8 million project are expected to take about a year. Jones said CPS anticipates it will be able to move to its new quarters during the 2018-19 academic year.

It's a major milestone for a small place that was created by Germantown Academy, a private school in Fort Washington, and Project HOME to give bright, low-income students an independent-school education with a strong foundation for college at a fraction of the cost.

CPS families pay tuition on a sliding scale, but no one pays the full $12,400. Board Chair Jocelyn Hillman said the average family pays less than $100 per month. The rest is covered by contributions from donors, foundations, fund-raising, and state programs that give tax credits to corporations that contribute to approved scholarship programs.

"This is going to be a wonderful addition to the fabric of the neighborhood," said State Rep. Donna Bullock (D., Phila.), whose district includes the property.

Two of Joseph Hale's children graduated from CPS, and he's excited his son Joseph B. Hale 3rd, a third grader, will have the chance to go to class in the new facility.

"With the old building, they did not have the chance to expand," Hale said. "With the new building, there will be better classroom space and computer rooms."

When the Community Partnership School opened with 36 children from preschool through first grade in 2006, national experts said it was the first school of its kind in the country.

CPS now has 93 students through fifth grade; the new building will enable it to grow to about 220 pupils. The school will add sections for existing grades each year, rather than expanding beyond fifth grade. Class size will not exceed 14 students.

Plans for the new campus include green areas for outdoor play and perhaps a garden.

Architect’s rendering of the rear of the new Community Partnership School.
Community Partnership School.
Architect’s rendering of the rear of the new Community Partnership School.

The new building also will have room for programs before and after school and during summers for parents and neighborhood  residents.

"We want to live more fully in our name — serving as a community hub," Jones said.

The new site is about half a mile from the school's current location on North Judson Street. For the past year, school representatives have been meeting with neighborhood residents.

The project is being financed primarily through donations to the CPS Capital Campaign, a $1 million state grant, and assistance from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and PNC through the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, which encourages private investments in low-income neighborhoods.