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Willard School project: a false start

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A celebratory groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited replacement of Willard School in Kensington took place in December, after years of promises and many frustrating delays. As recently as last month, District officials were saying its target date for opening the new school was Fall 2009.

But now that date has been pushed back.

Despite the ceremonial digging of a trench in December, the real work on the $40 million project never started.

This week, the Notebook obtained the following statement from a School District spokesperson about the latest apparent stumble in this long saga:

"The School District of Philadelphia is awaiting approval from the Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County to proceed with the excavation phase of construction of this new school. As many in that neighborhood know, the new Willard School will be built on the foundation of the former Franklin Recreation Center, which was built on the site of the former Franklin Cemetery. The School District purchased the site from the City of Philadelphia last year. The expected completion date of the new school is Fall 2010."

The District offered the following additional explanation: “Pennsylvania law on Burial Grounds requires Court approval because this is the site of a former cemetery."

A spokesperson said the timeline for action by the court was unknown.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project and its member groups in the Willard community have been advocating for a replacement of the aging facility and its annexes since the 1990s. EPOP Director Allen Stevens said today that the Willard project's proponents had all thought the issues involving the cemetery were taken care of. “I'm surprised personally that the District hadn't planned for this - it shows poor organization on their part,” he said. “It appears that they keep running into situations like this only because of poor planning.”

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Paul Socolar

@PaulSocolar
Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.