Finding a place to call home

— Four years after its open­ing, Ta­cony Academy Charter School has found a per­man­ent build­ing.

Fourth-grade teach­er Miss Heath­er Noel helps out her class with the lib­rary com­puters at the Ta­cony Charder School on Thursday, Decem­ber 6, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Ta­cony Academy Charter School opened in Septem­ber 2009, but of­fi­cials were forced to move in­to what they thought would be a tem­por­ary loc­a­tion in Rhawn­hurst.

Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute had moved from 1330 Rhawn St. to a new loc­a­tion on Red Li­on Road. Ta­cony Academy liked its space on Rhawn Street, but eyed the largely va­cant St. Vin­cent’s Home prop­erty at 7201 Mil­nor St.

Ger­ald San­tilli, founder of the non-profit edu­ca­tion­al man­age­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion that runs the school, said he had a “gen­tle­men’s agree­ment” with the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia. But the arch­diocese ul­ti­mately de­cided it didn’t want to sell to a charter school that would com­pete with its own schools. The Mil­nor Street prop­erty re­mains for sale.

Next, Ta­cony Academy had an agree­ment of sale to buy an­oth­er river­front prop­erty — the former Ar­mor Plat­ing Plant at Prin­ceton Av­en­ue. The ground had been pro­posed for hous­ing un­til the eco­nomy soured. In the end, the charter school de­term­ined that it would cost too much to re­medi­ate en­vir­on­ment­al con­cerns.

Fi­nally, Ta­cony Academy turned to its present loc­a­tion. Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools, its par­ent, bought the former Or­leans Tech from JEVS Hu­man Ser­vices for $5.9 mil­lion.

Sta­cey Cruise, CEO of Amer­ic­an Paradigm, said it’s been a “very long, frus­trat­ing jour­ney for us.” But she’s happy to be in a good build­ing in a nice neigh­bor­hood.

“It is awe­some,” she said.

San­tilli, Cruise, Ta­cony Academy prin­cip­al Ster­ling R. Gar­ris and ar­chi­tect Scott Kal­ner broke the good news to par­ents at a meet­ing Dec. 4.

“This is a very ex­cit­ing time for us,” Gar­ris said.

“We had great dif­fi­culty find­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate site,” he said.

Ta­cony Academy wanted to find a per­man­ent place that was in a safe en­vir­on­ment and fit in­to its budget. The Rhawn Street site fit the bill.

“Is it in Ta­cony where we hoped it would be? No. But we did the best we could with the cir­cum­stances we faced,” San­tilli said.

The school has already spent $500,000 in im­prove­ments as a ten­ant.

At present, Ta­cony Academy is open for kinder­garten through sev­enth-grade stu­dents. Next year, there will be 675 stu­dents in kinder­garten through eighth grade.

Right now, there are 750 chil­dren on the wait­ing list. Par­ents can re­gister their chil­dren in Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary at ht­tp://­con­y­aca­demy, and a pub­lic lot­tery will take place in March.

Ori­gin­ally, the school opened to ease over­crowding at pub­lic ele­ment­ary schools in Ta­cony. It soon will draw from over­crowded Rhawn­hurst-area schools, if there are open­ings.

The name will re­main.

“It’s go­ing to stay Ta­cony Academy Charter School be­cause there’s an emo­tion­al at­tach­ment to it,” Cruise said.

The school ex­pects no prob­lems win­ning zon­ing ap­prov­al from the city. After a bid­ding pro­cess in mid-Feb­ru­ary, con­struc­tion should start in mid-March and be com­pleted by the end of Au­gust.

The build­ing will grow from 72,000 square feet to 84,000 square feet. It will in­clude a lib­rary, sci­ence labs, a com­puter cen­ter, a lit­er­acy cen­ter, ad­di­tion­al classroom and com­mon space, ren­ov­ated bath­rooms, an im­proved en­trance and lobby, bet­ter flow through hall­ways and a gym­nas­i­um with bleach­ers so the bas­ket­ball teams won’t have to play all their games on the road.

Kal­ner, a seni­or pro­ject man­ager from KCBA Ar­chi­tects, said that bas­ket­ball play­ers will no longer have to take line-drive shots like they do in the cur­rent low-ceil­ing make­shift gym. Nor will they be able to count on the pil­lars play­ing the role of de­fens­ive play­ers.

Bus drivers and par­ents will use dif­fer­ent loops to drop off chil­dren.

“It’s a lot safer if buses and cars don’t mingle,” Kal­ner said.

There will be no dis­rup­tion to the edu­ca­tion dur­ing renov­a­tions. 

In ad­di­tion to Ta­cony Academy, Amer­ic­an Paradigm man­ages the fol­low­ing schools:

• First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School’s Frank­ford Val­ley Cam­pus, a kinder­garten to eighth-grade school at 4300 Ta­cony St.

• Ta­cony Academy Charter High School’s Rising Sun Cam­pus, which has 300 stu­dents in ninth, 10th and 11th grades at the former St. Wil­li­am School site at 6238 Rising Sun Ave. in Lawndale. First Phil­adelphia also has 250 kinder­garten through second-grade stu­dents in a sep­ar­ate former St. Wil­li­am build­ing. Those young­er stu­dents were sup­posed to at­tend classes at the former Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion at 4618 Prin­ceton Ave. in Ta­cony, but a zon­ing is­sue forced a change.

• Mem­ph­is Street Academy Charter School, which has 800 fifth- through eighth-graders at the former John Paul Jones Middle School site at 2950 Mem­ph­is St. in Port Rich­mond.

First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory will open a high school for ninth- and 10th-graders on the Ta­cony Street cam­pus in Septem­ber 2014. Next year’s ninth-graders will at­tend classes at the former St. Bern­ard School, on Aldine Street in East May­fair, from Septem­ber 2013 through June 2014. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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