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Benjamin Franklin High School

Philadelphia finds temporary space for 2 schools

Asbestos concerns and other construction problems forced district officials to relocate nearly 1,000 students who attend the 2 schools.

Students from a Philadelphia school building displaced by construction problems and the discharge of asbestos will resume classes in new locations Monday, superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the two schools that share the building—Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy (SLA)—will be in temporary space until at least January.

Benjamin Franklin will be house in the former Khepera Charter School at 926 W. Sedgley St. SLA will divide its students between two locations a couple of blocks apart — School District headquarters, 440 N. Broad St., and Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad.

The Sedgley location will cost the district $70,000 per month to rent, and renting Rodeph Shalom will cost $80,000 through December.

The nearly 1,000 students at both schools are expected to be back in their building along North Broad after winter break.

Students, staff, parents, and district officials have worked since Monday to secure new locations for classes. Ben Franklin principal Christine Borelli says the community prioritized staying together in one location and getting into a building as quickly as possible. It also did not want to co-locate with another school.

Stakeholders at SLA, a magnet school attended by students from throughout the city, wanted classes to stay near Center City, near public transit and internship sites. Its students and staff are better able to cope with two locations, officials say.

Students from both schools will have missed 11 school days.

Shawn Bird, the district’s chief schools officer, said officials will work with the communities and teachers’ union to determine a plan for students to make up days they missed.

After Hite’s announcement, the school board’s finance and facilities committee met, with the Ben Franklin-SLA situation first on its agenda.

“This has been a very sobering 10-day-plus period for the district, and I know for the board,” says President Joyce Wilkerson.

The superintendent told board members that the district lacks the necessary resources to manage multiple construction projects, needs to better oversee companies performing work, and needs to be more transparent.

“One thing I think we have to get better at is communicating facts and accurate information out to communities,” Hite says.

Hite says that further environmental tests have been performed at the Ben Franklin building, and that the only area where asbestos fibers were found in concentrations above acceptable levels is the boiler room, which is not occupied by students or staff.

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