Independence Charter School in Center City will finally get a permanent home.
After two years of negotiating with the Philadelphia School District and vying with a developer, Independence bought the former Durham School at 16th and Lombard Streets yesterday for $6 million.
"It feels good," said Jurate Krokys, the charter's principal and chief executive.
The school, which has 695 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, has been operating from its increasingly crowded, leased quarters at Seventh and Sansom Streets for seven years.
"I think it's great," Susan Burrows, copresident of Independence's parent-teacher association, said yesterday. "It's nice the kids will have their own school."
The charter school will restore Durham's facade, renovate the interior, and build a four-story addition. Construction will begin immediately. The school plans to move in next fall.
The new location will provide space for the 732 students authorized by Independence's charter, furnish needed art, music and science rooms, and give the school an adjacent play yard.
Independence now uses Washington Square for outdoor activities.
"It is still a field trip every time we go," Krokys said. "This will allow for a bit more freedom and fresh air."
Independence, which has an international focus and stresses world culture, teaches Spanish to all students and offers an optional Spanish-immersion program.
The school began looking for a permanent home three years ago. Krokys said the charter board was determined to remain in Center City because Independence draws children from 41 zip codes and relies on the cultural and historic resources available downtown.
She said officials considered 40 sites and walked through 20 buildings. The Durham School emerged as a top choice after the Philadelphia School Reform Commission closed the underused elementary school in June 2003.
Independence, which offered the district $5.2 million, found itself competing with Miles & Generalis Inc., a lofts developer willing to spend $6 million to use the property for a high-rise condominium project.
Although Miles & Generalis was the winning bidder, area residents made it clear they preferred the building to be used as a school.
"We said if a school stepped up, we would step aside," Alex Generalis, a principal at the development firm, said yesterday.
Independence ultimately agreed to pay the $6 million.
"We handed off the contract," Generalis said. "We were happy to help."
Funding for the entire project will come from $18 million in tax-free municipal bonds from the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development.