After sitting vacant at North 5th and Luzerne for more than a decade, work has begun to re-open the former Roberto Clemente Middle School as a new affordable housing community.
On Friday, Esperanza, a non-profit that aims to help strengthen Hispanic communities in and around Philly, broke ground on the Roberto Clemente Homes, 38 affordable rental units and 5,000 square feet of retail at the seven-story school.
“For so many years, the building was not only a safety hazard, but an ugly and discouraging presence in our community,” said Rev. Luis Cortés, Jr., Founder, President and CEO of Esperanza in a statement.
The Roberto Clemente Middle School is more than a century old, designed by Frederick Muhlenberg in 1924 as the Apex Hosiery Factory. It was eventually converted into the Pennsylvania Advancement Middle School, and later renamed after Roberto Clemente, the famous baseball player. But it has been closed for a decade. In that time, it’s stood as a symbol of blight and crime in the Hunting Park community.
In 2013, Esperanza began the process of purchasing the building from the School District of Philadelphia and ultimately acquired it in September 2016. Since then, Esperanza has completed asbestos remediation at the site and has started a partial demolition under Domus Construction that will bring the seven-story building down to three stories. A parking lot and a children’s play area will also be built at the site.
The hope, Cortes, Jr. said, is that the project will be transformational for the Hunting Park neighborhood and provide more opportunities and a “better standard of living” for the community.
The homes are expected to be move-in ready in 2018.