Charter school wants to demolish pool hall and rebuild

Wissi­nom­ing Civic As­so­ci­ation mem­bers spent about two hours last week listen­ing to a pro­pos­al by Ta­cony Academy Charter School of­fi­cials to de­mol­ish a bil­liards hall and stor­age units and build a high school on the site.

While some neigh­bors favored the pro­pos­al, oth­ers ex­pressed con­cern about traffic, park­ing and the school’s prox­im­ity to train tracks.

At the end of the Feb. 27 meet­ing, after half the crowd had de­par­ted, civic as­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Richard Young called for a vote.

Sev­er­al of the vo­cal op­pon­ents were not per­mit­ted to vote, as Young cited bylaws re­quir­ing mem­bers to pay $10 and at­tend three meet­ings be­fore hav­ing a form­al say.

“Richard, why didn’t you say that in the be­gin­ning?” one wo­man asked.

“What was the pur­pose of bring­ing us all out?” asked an­oth­er wo­man, wav­ing a $10 bill.

In the end, a mere 13 people voted. The count was 9-4 in fa­vor of the school pro­pos­al.

Jerry San­tilli, founder of the non­profit edu­ca­tion­al man­age­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion that runs the school, ex­plained that Ta­cony Academy wanted neigh­bor­hood ap­prov­al be­fore it ap­pears in front of the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment.

At present, the school is con­duct­ing an en­vir­on­ment­al re­view and seek­ing a loan from M&T Bank.

“We have an agree­ment of sale,” San­tilli said.

The school is buy­ing the ground at 6201 Key­stone St. for $1 mil­lion. Ground­break­ing is ex­pec­ted to take place in Septem­ber, mean­ing Ta­cony Bil­liards would likely close in the sum­mer.

San­tilli said uni­on labor would work on the pro­ject. The high school is ex­pec­ted to be ready to open in Septem­ber 2014.

At present, Ta­cony Academy High School is loc­ated at the former St. Wil­li­am Ele­ment­ary School on Rising Sun Av­en­ue in Lawn­crest.

Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools, its par­ent com­pany, also op­er­ates a Ta­cony Academy ele­ment­ary school on Rhawn Street in Rhawn­hurst, in the former Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute build­ing.

The com­pany also op­er­ates First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School, at 4300 Ta­cony St. in Frank­ford Val­ley, and Mem­ph­is Street Academy Charter School, in Port Rich­mond.

Ini­tially, Ta­cony Academy wanted its ele­ment­ary and high schools on the same cam­pus.

“We couldn’t find that,” said Sta­cey Cruise, the CEO of Amer­ic­an Paradigm.

Ta­cony Academy first eyed the St. Vin­cent’s Home, at 7201 Mil­nor St., but the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia did not want to sell to a charter school. Next, it looked at the former Ar­mor Plat­ing Plant, on Prin­ceton Av­en­ue near the Delaware River, but there were en­vir­on­ment­al con­cerns.

As for the high school, Ta­cony Academy pre­vi­ously looked at the Key­stone Street prop­erty, but it was not for sale. Now, it is al­most theirs.

“We’ve al­ways loved this site,” San­tilli said.

The high school will en­roll 400 stu­dents.

“It’s a small high school, by high school stand­ards,” San­tilli said.

Cruise told the crowd that 75 per­cent of its high school stu­dents would oth­er­wise at­tend Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln or North­east high schools. The rest can come from any­where in the city.

Ac­cord­ing to Ta­cony Academy of­fi­cials, the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia is open to amend­ing the charter to in­clude stu­dents com­ing from Wissi­nom­ing-area schools in that 75 per­cent fig­ure.

Jay Clough, man­aging prin­cip­al of KCBA Ar­chi­tects, de­scribed the prop­erty as “a tight site.” He said, though, that there would be enough room for 70 to 75 park­ing spots, along with 25 drop-off areas and green space.

The school would be three stor­ies high and would be de­signed without win­dows in the rear to serve as a buf­fer to the train tracks and I-95.

The edu­ca­tion of­fi­cials told neigh­bors the school would be an im­prove­ment for the site, and asked for their sup­port.

“We want to walk down the aisle with you at our side,” San­tilli said. “Give us a chance to make it right.”

Some neigh­bors, though, wer­en’t swayed. One man asked why the school was needed.

“Would you want to go to Lin­coln or Frank­ford?” San­tilli replied.

Oth­ers don’t want the ad­di­tion­al traffic, es­pe­cially when there are open­ings of the Ta­cony-Palmyra Bridge.

When Cruise asked, “What time does the traffic let up?” the neigh­bors laughed.

San­tilli agreed to con­duct a traffic study, but some neigh­bors re­main op­posed to the con­struc­tion of a new school.

A few neigh­bors said they were wor­ried about van­dal­ism to their prop­erty.

“High school kids are worse than grade school kids,” one wo­man said.

A Ta­cony Academy sopho­more, who iden­ti­fied her­self as Mary Mar­garet, said she and her class­mates are re­spect­ful.

“We’re a good group of stu­dents,” she said.

Some neigh­bors, not­ing the 30 nearby homes that were de­mol­ished in 1999 be­cause the ash land­fill they were built on was crum­bling, wanted to know if the site was safe.

Build­er John Par­sons said the en­gin­eer­ing stud­ies will show wheth­er the soil is safe enough to pro­ceed.

Par­sons gave his own pitch for the school, liken­ing the dis­cip­line and char­ac­ter at Ta­cony Academy to what he ex­per­i­enced with the Im­macu­late Heart of Mary nuns at St. Mar­tin of Tours.

Op­pon­ents, though, left dis­gruntled, not only be­cause of the out­come of the vote, but be­cause so few people got to make the de­cision.

“It ended up be­ing a waste of time,” one man said.

Wissi­nom­ing Civic As­so­ci­ation will meet again on Wed­nes­day, March 27, at 7 p.m. at Wissi­nom­ing Pres­by­teri­an Church, at 5825 Tor­res­dale Ave. (at How­ell Street). ••

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

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