Students at schools closed due to asbestos will go to new schools

Benjamin Franklin High will start this Monday, and Science Leadership Academy should be ready the following Monday

SPRING GARDEN — Students from the two Philadelphia schools who haven’t been in class in more than two weeks — since Thursday, Sept. 26 — now know they’ll be temporarily attending different schools, and they weren’t the district’s first choices.

Benjamin Franklin High School, from School District of Philadelphia

Benjamin Franklin High School and the Science Leadership Academy, which share a campus near School District of Philadelphia headquarters on N. Broad Street in Spring Garden, have been closed since damaged insulation material was found on ductwork in the boiler room. It was found to contain asbestos. Since then, several tests have been conducted.

Science Leadership Academy, from School District of Philadelphia

District officials decided about a thousand students at the schools and their teachers would have to go

“to temporary sites until construction at the new shared campus is complete, and the site is approved for re-occupancy,”

but parents weren’t happy with the plan, which was presented at town hall meetings on Monday.

The solutions were to send students to Strawberry Mansion and South Philadelphia high schools.

In a letter released Thursday, superintendent Dr. William Hite wrote,

“A Task Force of teachers, staff, students, parents, principals from both schools and District leaders worked tirelessly over several days this week reviewing new relocation site options that better meet the unique needs of each school.”

He said the group’s recommendations were unanimous.

“Ben Franklin students and staff relocate to 926 W. Sedgley Avenue, the former site for Khepera Charter School. The site was selected due to its close proximity to the current school building, easy access to the Broad Street Line and its ability to house the entire school community in one location.”

“Science Leadership Academy pursue a Center City campus model, using classrooms at 440 N. Broad St. [School District of Philadelphia headquarters] and Rodeph Shalom at 615 N. Broad St., due to the close proximity to the Broad Street Line and current internship sites for students. The transition to Rodeph Shalom will begin this week, with the goal of all students and staff being fully relocated by Monday, October 21.”

The changes are expected to continue through December.

“My commitment to you is that the new shared campus will not re-open until all major construction is complete, environmental testing has been conducted and the building has been approved for reoccupancy. Once the campus has re-opened, any post-construction follow-up activities such as electrical service adjustments, classroom equipment installations and locksmith services will be performed during evening hours,”

Dr. Hite wrote.

He also offered his

“sincerest apology for significantly underestimating the challenge of maintaining a healthy school environment at the Ben Franklin-SLA campus while conducting major construction on multiple floors during the school day. You have missed instructional time, and endured major disruptions in your personal lives. No apology can undo that.”

asbestos (Wikipedia file)

As for the asbestos, he wrote,

“102 areas of the BF-SLA campus were tested by both the District and the PFT [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union]. Except for the boiler room area, all results have come back favorable.”

Only the boiler area, which is only accessible to custodial staff, tested higher than normal, and asbestos abatement work has already begun there. Click here to see specific results.

asbestos abatement (Wikipedia file)

Students at both schools missed the first two days of the year due to elevator problems.

Dr. Hite recognized,

“We must engage in a deeper and more meaningful conversation about the presence of lead and asbestos in our buildings, and what we can do together to better support the safety of our students and staff”

at other Philadelphia schools.


  1. Inquirer Editorial Board writes that action on Philly’s toxic schools needs to include more city and state leaders: “Parents are right to be concerned about the toxic dangers in the city’s aging school buildings and the School District’s response, which has often been too slow and not straightforward in communicating to parents a realistic picture of how the district is fixing the dangers of asbestos in schools.”

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