Philadelphia School District officials hope to sell the former Roberto Clemente Middle School, along with 11 other vacant school buildings, nearly three months after City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a scathing report that criticized the school district for neglecting the properties.
Looming over the 4000 block of North Fifth Street and sitting vacant for more than a decade, the 110-year-old Roberto Clemente Middle School building basks in such extreme structural disrepair that Butkovitz recommended in December the Philadelphia School District demolish it immediately. The school is named after the all-star Pittsburgh Pirate player known for his humanitarian efforts who died in a plane crash trying to help people in during the 1972Nicaraguan earthquake.
“The school district continues to allow the majority of its vacant buildings to become neighborhood eyesores and safety hazards,” Butkovitz said when he released his findings.
Used needles, heaps of garbage and fallen debris from the building litter its surroundings. Meanwhile, the building stands like a skeleton after scrappers ripped apart anything they could from inside, including brick walls, to sell to a scrap yard just a few blocks away near the 2000 block of Erie Street.
The Philadelphia School District closed the former Roberto Clemente Middle School 14 years ago, largely because enrollment had significantly decreased, said Danielle Floyd, who works for the Philadelphia School District and is responsible for its capital improvement plan.
“We didn’t need a six-story multilevel building holding thousands of students when we saw the population didn’t necessarily dictate that need,” Floyd said.
The School Reform Commission green-lighted a dozen vacant schools in its Adaptive Sale and Reuse policy and had each building recently appraised. School district officials hope to sell the buildings for as close to market-value as they can, especially as the district struggles to close a $61 million budget deficit before June. But Roberto Clemente could face significant challenges.
After years of neglect, scrapers have not only ripped the building apart but have also caused health concerns for residents who live around the area. For instance, Flloyd confirmed the building was made with asbestos, which isn’t a health concerned when sealed.
But when it’s broken a part, asbestos can pollute the air.
According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, asbestos can “remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind.” Over time, those who are breathing in the asbestos can develop deadly diseases, like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
“I know there are significant environmental concerns,” Flloyd said. However, she disputed that the asbestos was disturbed.
Residents, like Jose Lisojo, disagreed.
“The guy that I spoke to over  said, ‘it doesn’t affect you right away, it takes ten years,’ something like that.” Lisojo said. “You can feel a scratchy throat…there are no windows on it so the wind carries it, it can go any direction.”
Still, the school district has a Feb. 21 deadline for anyone who is interested in bidding on the properties.