Philadelphia to Close High School for Massive Asbestos Removal Project

A high school in Philadelphia will stop accepting ninth graders next fall so that the school district can eventually close it for a few years as a massive asbestos removal project and school remodeling begins. The school is expected to be empty by 2010.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Daily News, the school was supposed to undergo major renovations as part of the district’s $1.5 billion, five-year building plan announced in December 2002.

But concerns about asbestos have convinced district officials to phase out the school before it undergoes an 18-month renovation, said Patrick Henwood, the district’s senior vice president for capital programs.

“Our plan is to abate that building when it becomes feasible,” he said. “We’re going to completely renovate it instead of [spending] the original $15 million or $10 million we had allocated for it. We’ll probably wind up spending close to $40 million to renovate it.”

The Philadelphia School District hasn’t had to close an entire school for asbestos removal for more than 20 years. From 1984-1986, it removed students from the Martin Luther King Jr. High School for the same reason.

“The asbestos at University City is not harmful to people because it is not airborne, but is contained in ceiling fireproofing material,” said Henwood, who estimated the removal project won’t begin until 2010 after the final senior class graduates from the school. Henwood strongly believes that the asbestos at University City HS could not be contained safely during renovations, thus the necessity to remove the students.

Teachers have been complaining about the conditions at the school for years. “If they know asbestos is in here and we can die from it, what the hell are we doing in the building?” fumed Barbara Wilf Rose, a math teacher at the school for three years.

“If this was in a suburban area this would not have been allowed. It’s horrendous that they would allow this in the city, endangering our people’s lives,” added Rose, who said that in one classroom a powdery substance was seen floating in the air.

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