School board OKs $52 million contract for new Solis-Cohen school

The Philadelphia Board of Education last week approved a $52 million contract for new Solis-Cohen Elementary School.

The Philadelphia Board of Education on Thursday approved a $52 million contract for the construction of a new Solis-Cohen Elementary School in Castor Gardens.

Construction on the new 140,000-square-foot school will begin before the end of the year, according to school district spokesman Lee Whack. It will be built at the site of the current school at Tyson Avenue and Horrocks Street.

The new two-story building, which is scheduled to open for the 2020–21 school year, will include 60 classrooms, a cafeteria, gymnasium, science labs, music rooms, art rooms and a library, according to information provided at the board meeting. It will serve about 1,400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The old school will be demolished, the district said.

Whack said students will not be displaced from Solis-Cohen during the construction process. Some classes will be relocated to modular buildings, and a construction fence will be installed to keep school and construction activities separate, according to Whack.

“Construction activities will be coordinated with the school administrators around instruction needs and testing to minimize noise disruption,” Whack said in an email. “We are working with (a) construction management firm throughout this project to successfully complete this work.”

Ernest Bock & Sons, which is based in the Far Northeast, has been named general contractor for the project.

Funding for the construction of the new school will come from the district’s 2019–20 capital budget.

School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite previously told the Times that it would cost twice as much to fix the structural problems at the current school compared to building a new facility.

In other news from Thursday’s board meeting, several parents and school faculty raised concerns about a lack of substitute nurses at schools around the city.

“We are aware of the concerns regarding substitute nurses,” Hite said. “There are more absences this year due to some early school year retirements and slight increases in the daily absenteeism taken by nurses.”

Hite said the district is currently contracting with Kelly Services, which has a pool of nine substitute nurses. In addition, he said the district has identified candidates to fill three of four current school nurse vacancies.

State regulation allows only medical professionals to administer medication to students, Hite said. The district had previously allowed other school staff to distribute medication in the absence of a nurse.

During the meeting, the board approved a $200,000 contract with two additional providers for substitute nurses.

Lincoln High School nurse Peg Devine told board members that the pay for substitute nurses is “abysmally low.” She said the district is paying substitutes as low as $24 an hour.

“My fear is that if the pay isn’t adequate, no matter how many agencies you contract with, you will not get substitutes to work, and our students deserve better,” Devine said. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at