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Walter Smith School in Point Breeze to become apartments

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Developer Ori Feibush is behind the project

After closing its doors in 2013 and its status in limbo for years after that, we now know the fate of the Walter G. Smith School in Point Breeze: It will be converted into apartments and community space.

Local developer Ori Feibush of OCF Realty announced yesterday that he has purchased the 64,500-square-foot school located at 19th and Wharton on social media. He wrote, “Our plans will include the conversion of the former school into an apartment building that includes community spaces and additional neighborhood amenities, as well as the construction of a pair of buildings on the rear lot.”

Walter G. Smith School was built between 1924-1925.
via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a long road to get to this point. The Gothic-Revival school, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, shuttered in June 2013 along with dozens of other schools throughout the city. About a year later, news emerged that Maryland-based developer Concordia Group had plans to purchase the property and turn it into apartments.

But a grassroots neighborhood group called Save Smith School protested the move in October 2016, arguing that Point Breeze was in need of more schools.

It seems that the protests were enough to convince Concordia to back out of the deal. Philadeliquency reports that the developer sold the property to Feibush, who acknowledged Save Smith School’s desires to return the school back to its original purpose. Here is his announcement, published in full:

I am excited to announce that my partners and I have purchased the shuttered Walter Smith School at 19th & Wharton. Our plans will include the conversion of the former school into an apartment building that includes community spaces and additional neighborhood amenities, as well as the construction of a pair of buildings on the rear lot.

I am aware that a small contingent of neighbors would like to see Smith School reopen as a charter school, but it is my opinion that this path would cause irreparable harm to the other public schools in the neighborhood (Childs, Stanton, and McDaniel). I would contend that part of the reason Smith School closed four years ago was because charter schools have taken resources away from neighborhood schools. If Smith were to re-open as a charter school, our other neighborhood schools would close in short order. This is an unintended consequence that pro-charter advocates don't seem to appreciate, but the facts suggest it is a reality.

For those who may suggest that Point Breeze needs another school, it is important to point out that when Smith closed four years ago, its students were absorbed by Childs, Stanton, and McDaniel. Since then each school has lost students. Enrollment at Childs has gone from 645 students to 555, Stanton from 306 to 261, and McDaniel from 887 to 603. The two closest schools to Smith, Childs and Stanton, are at 47% and 60% capacity respectively. These schools need enormous help and we should be spending our collective energies fighting to improve them, not to bring back a long since shuttered school.

I look forward to presenting plans for the school as they become available.

This isn’t the first shuttered school to be converted into apartments. The original West Philadelphia High School has spent the past couple of years undergoing construction and has been turned into loft-style rental units.