Mayfair residents, school district reach agreement on new school

A new K-8 school in Mayfair is expected to move forward after neighbors and district officials reached a deal on various issues.

SOURCE: SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA

An agreement has been reached.

An at-times bitter battle between Mayfair neighbors and the School District of Philadelphia ended Monday, Oct. 28, when the two sides agreed to a compromise on issues related to the construction of a new K-8 school.

It took another 90 minutes of impassioned discussion, likely hours of negotiations and several community meetings and hearings, but it finally happened.

“It seems like everything that we have asked for,” Mayfair Civic President Donny Smith said at the special meeting.

The civic association and other neighborhood groups pushed for a number of things to be added to the $78 million project, which has been winding its way through the zoning process. The school, scheduled to open in fall of 2021, is being built behind Abraham Lincoln High School.

Community fields were not initially part of the plan, but the issue was raised by residents, who cited a decade-old promise to erect five fields near Ryan and Rowland avenues when Lincoln was reconstructed.

They didn’t get five, but the district agreed to put in two public fields and repair an existing football field in the area used by Lincoln. Nonprofit athletic associations will be allowed to use the fields.

Another issue was security. 

Smith said he gets contacted by neighbors at least once a week about the behavior of Lincoln students after dismissal.

As part of a community benefits agreement, the district said it will work with police to set up security cameras, establish a plan for dismissal and designate a neighborhood security liaison to address the concerns of residents.

Specific details about the security procedures are being kept confidential, Smith said.

District officials also agreed to provide land to the community for a dog park after the demolition of Austin Meehan Middle School, which is scheduled to be completed by September 2022, according to the design plan.

In addition, the school system said it will ensure lighting throughout the campus, repair or replace all fencing, and repair and illuminate the Lincoln football stadium.

Community leaders have been pushing to have the school named after former Lincoln principal, local historian and Northeast Times columnist Harry Silcox. The district has a policy for naming schools, and the name will be determined at a later date. 

Residents at the Oct. 28 Mayfair Civic meeting voted to support the school’s zoning variances with the CBA, but not before the meeting momentarily devolved into a shouting match.

Tensions were high, especially after neighbors expressed concerns about who is responsible for maintenance of the 95-acre site. 

Representatives from the school system said the district is responsible, but residents said they have been maintaining parts of the property for years with little help from the school district.

Smith brought up that, over the last several weeks, there have also been questions over whether the school is big enough to accommodate the neighborhood’s increasing population. Mayfair School, which has been overcrowded, is in the process of putting on another addition.

Nicole Ward, the district’s design manager, said the new school’s capacity will be 1,900 students, but officials would like to see 1,660. Large schools, with, say, an enrollment of 2,500, are too overwhelming for younger children, she said.

It will be possible to expand the school in the future, but the district has no intentions to add on to the building, Ward said. 

Schools in parts of Northeast Philadelphia are bursting at the seams. Ward said the plan is to build additions at Mayfair, Holme, Pollock, Ethan Allan, Rhawnhurst and Anne Frank. Farrell opened an annex this past summer, and crews are working on a new building for Solis-Cohen.

“We are hoping with all of those additions that we can actually level and provide enough seats for the Northeast area,” she said. “It’s not just one school.”

As far as the fields, the district committed to erecting one community-use field by September 2020 and a second by fall of 2022, after the demolition of Meehan. 

“By September of 2020, field one is going to be done, or we’re going to court,” Smith said. 

Residents at the meeting inquired about utilizing an abandoned ball field on Ryan Avenue south of Lincoln.

Luis Vildostegui, a designer for Stantec, a consultant on the project, said the site is not feasible due to its size, slope and other concerns. It’s also the only logical spot for Lincoln to expand, if it ever had to, he said.

A representative for the school’s developer, Gilbane Building Company, said construction has been pushed back a month.

The firm is aiming to get a building permit by late November, early December, with site work set to begin shortly thereafter. Structural steel is scheduled to go up in February or March, Gilbane said. 

No change has been made to the opening date of the school. 

The catchment boundaries for the new school have yet to be finalized. Ward said the district is meeting with parents, and an online survey is up to gather feedback.

It’s anticipated that the Zoning Board of Adjustment will approve various variances for the project on Wednesday. On Oct. 23, the board heard the case but decided to hold back on the vote after community leaders expressed concerns.

Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon said he was satisfied with the progress made on the project. He said he will continue to act as a facilitator between neighbors and the district.

“I appreciate everybody having this kind of dialogue and conversation. Maybe some of this was missing in the past,” Henon said during the meeting. “It’s much more detailed now.” ••