Penn Charter’s plans for a campus transformation, which will make it possible for the school to provide a complete educational experience in East Falls for the next 50 years and beyond, moved forward this week as construction began on the Strawbridge Campus across School House Lane.

The first and enabling step of the campus transformation is construction of a new baseball field on the Strawbridge Campus. Penn Charter will then begin construction of a new Athletics & Wellness Center on the site of the current baseball field and move all the functions in Dooney Field House to the new center.

Dooney would then be torn down and a new state-of-the-art Lower School built in its place. The school hopes to complete the baseball field in time for the spring 2019 season, and the remaining two projects within five years.

Penn Charter developed the campus transformation plan after the purchase in 2016 of the property at 3005 West School House Lane for $1.8 million. The school has worked with architects to develop the plan and with the East Falls community to share design concepts and receive feedback and approvals. Throughout this open and transparent process, where accommodations could be made, they were made. At each step in the process, the school has communicated with City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. and his office.

Penn Charter was grateful for the unanimous decision by the Zoning Board of Adjustment on July 18 to grant a zoning variance for the property at 3005 West School House Lane. The City of Philadelphia granted permission for demolition to begin Aug. 9.

The East Falls Community Council, East Falls Forward and the Foxx Lane neighbors bordering the site of the new field support the project.

After architectural salvage and preparation of the site for demolition were completed, on Aug. 13 the co-presidents of the East Falls Historical Society raised an objection to the teardown. In their request to halt demolition, they cited the provenance of the original building, constructed from 1907-1911 and designed by Wilson Eyre, a prominent Philadelphia architect.

Fine examples of Wilson Eyre’s country houses remain intact and occupied in Philadelphia, however, the building at 3005 School House Lane was altered over decades to accommodate institutional use.

By the time the school purchased the property from JEVS Human Services, the facility was in bad condition and had been extensively remodeled, with large additions to the original house and major interior modifications, to make it useable as a facility for adults with physical, intellectual and emotional challenges. 

The Penn Charter community was familiar with the building and the people who lived there. For many years, Penn Charter students visited the residents of JEVS as part of community service work with partners in East Falls, Germantown and Allegheny West. JEVS decided that the institutional setting of the property was no longer the best model for residents, all of whom were slowly and thoughtfully matched to smaller, more residential living arrangements.

Jeff Reinhold, clerk of Penn Charter’s board of Overseers, said the school’s plan to advance its program in academics, arts and athletics required a reconfiguration of the existing campus or buying land at a different location for athletics facilities or as a site for a new lower school.

“Acquiring the former JEVS property made it possible to keep the school in the city and in East Falls, and to achieve everything programmatically, at a high level, pre-K to 12.”

Penn Charter and East Falls are coming up on an anniversary: the school laid a cornerstone for a new gymnasium, now the Old Gym, in 1923, and opened the red doors of the main building in 1925.

“We hope the campus transformation will be complete on the day we celebrate our 100th anniversary in East Falls,” Reinhold said.