For 41 years, the 14-acre plot on Filbert Street between 37th and 38th streets was home to University City High School, Charles Drew Elementary School and The Walnut Center.
Today, those buildings have been erased from existence, leaving behind a vast swath of unfinished terrain littered by rocks, dirt and controversy.
University City High School closed in 2013 as a result of a motion by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to shut down nearly two dozen public high schools, while saving four from closure. In June of 2014, Drexel University and Wexford Science and Technology, LLC, collaborated on a $25.15 million purchase of University City High School’s former grounds from the School District of Philadelphia.
Drexel and Wexford’s construction plan for the 14-acre plot includes a new K-8 school building for Samuel Powel Elementary School, surrounded by residential, retail and recreational space in addition to laboratory and research office space and parking – but no new high school.
Located less than a mile from the center of the Mantua section of West Philadelphia, University City High School had an integral role in the education of Mantua’s youth for more than four decades. Now, the options are slimmer for Mantua residents seeking a nearby public high school, with West Philadelphia High School located 1.6 miles from the center of Mantua and Overbrook High School approximately four miles away.
Despite the absence of a public high school in Mantua, after-school programs such as Mighty Writers West, led by 1997 University City High School graduate Khalia Robinson (above), and the West Philadelphia Community Center have been stepping up to educate high school students and encourage them to expand their horizons beyond the neighborhood’s limits.
– Video, text and images by Tom Reifsnyder.
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