by Michael Burch
What’s the state of education in Parkside? These days that’s a really good question to ask. Everyone knows that the Philadelphia School System has been under tremendous financial stress; so much so that they have closed 23 schools from across the city. One major causality of the school closings is Joseph Leidy School at the corner of Belmont and Leidy Ave. Leidy Elementary has sat on that corner for 51 years, educating students from the surrounding neighborhoods. This writer should know, because I was one of the first group of students to have attended kindergarten at Leidy. The school was named after the famed 19th century paleontologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Joseph Leidy. It might surprise many people to know that this is not the first Leidy School to sit in Parkside. Years before the current building was built in 1962, there stood just across the street on 42nd and Thompson stood the original Leidy School built sometime after 1880.
The kids in my neighborhood always referred to the original Leidy School affectionately as “Old Leidy”. The building stayed in operation until the completion of the current and now only) Leidy School was finished in 1962.
There was a brief attempt in the early 1970’s to convert “Old Leidy” into a middle school but that did not work. Eventually “Old Leidy” was torn down to make way for the current homes that now sit on her old site. This is a really good use of her land.
Now let’s fast forward to 2013. We now have a “new” Old Leidy School whose useful life as a public school appears to be over. So what happens to her now? Will she become another old derelict building in West Philadelphia? What is to become of her and her legacy in this neighborhood? On a more positive note for the community, Discovery Charter School has moved to its new location at 4700 Parkside Avenue. Discovery has been in Parkside for some years now, but the move puts them in a larger, more state of the art building that can accommodate more students. Ironically, Discovery’s new location is down the street from the now closed Leidy School.
It remains to be determined how many Leidy Students will be attending Discovery Charter. The impact of the school closings on our neighborhood go beyond just Leidy School. University City High School is also closing and some of the students from University City may end up attending the School of the Future at 42nd and Parkside Avenue.
While I am sure nearby schools can absorb the increased numbers of students resulting from the school closings, no community benefits from having a large vacant building in its midst. According to some online sources, Leidy School has a market value of more than 3 million dollars.
Selling Leidy and the other closed schools is a very good idea. It removes these vacant buildings from our community and gives them new life.
What do YOU think would be a good use for the now vacant Leidy School building?
Do you think it will make a good home for another charter school? How about a community or recreation center? There certainly is enough space. Maybe it could be turned into a new apartment building with some new park space added in. The list could be endless
Feel free to email your ideas to the Journal here. I’ll mention community ideas in a future issue of The Parkside Journal.