Happy school daze

Ceremony at the Frankford Friends School celebrates plans for a new building. JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES PHOTO

Pupils and teachers at the Frankford Friends School are excited that construction of a new building is about to begin.

Expanding the Frankford Friends School has been talked about for a while. Zoning variances had to be granted; support had to be gained; financing had to be secured. Not small things, but they needed to be accomplished.

They have been, so last week, pupils filled the old Orthodox Street schoolyard to greet Mayor Michael Nutter and other officials to celebrate the upcoming construction of a new building.

Joining the mayor for the Sept. 13 ceremony were principal Penny Colgan-Davis, teachers, staff, pupils, local business and community leaders, Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D-179th dist.) and City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez (D-7th dist.), whose son, Tomas, attended Friends.

After several short speeches during the ceremony, pupils and teachers lined up on a cleared parcel next to the landmark school at Penn and Orthodox streets where the new building will go up. It will be the first new construction at the school in decades.

Crepe paper was pinned to the ground to indicate where certain rooms and classes will be when the building’s construction is complete.

The new building will include three classrooms, a music specialty classroom and a multipurpose room, which can be used for gym classes and community meetings.

The classrooms will accommodate sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The school had obtained adjacent parcels and razed the buildings to make room for the new structure.

With the extra space, total enrollment is expected to rise from 125 to about 165.

“That’s what we hope,” said Amy Silver O’Leary, the school’s director of development and alumni relations.

The total project will cost about $1.8 million, Silver O’Leary said, of which $1.4 million will be for construction. It is set to begin in the next few weeks. She said Friends staff and alumni are hoping that the work will be finished in about eight months.

Non-profits, alumni and local businesses have kicked in to cover the project’s cost. The state has budgeted $500,000 for the school, she said.

Because so much state money is being devoted to the building, there will be no religious instruction within the curriculum, she said, adding that very few pupils are from Quaker families.

State money doesn’t come without local support. The funding request for Friends came from Rep. Payton, with support from state Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.).

“He worked tirelessly to advocate for the funding,” Silver O’Leary said of Payton. She added that Quinones-Sanchez also supported the school’s cause with state officials, and Tartaglione pushed for the funds in the state Senate.

Payton said advancing the school’s cause wasn’t easy.

First, there are really no written rules for getting money from the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program, funds that are intended to promote economic development.

Second, there is a lot of competition for a limited number of dollars — 203 state representatives, 50 state senators and a governor.

Payton said his successful strategy keyed on making a pest of himself to the governor’s office.

Mayor Nutter’s stop at the school on Sept. 13 was his second appearance of the day in Frankford, and although he heard a little Mummers music earlier at the Frankford Farmers Market, he really got serenaded at Friends. School children performed a song about the merits and attractions of the city. ••

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215–354–3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com