Hispanic nonprofit eyes Cardinal Dougherty High site

Posted: September 09, 2010

A Hispanic youth-advocacy agency has made an offer to buy the 12-acre campus of the now-defunct Cardinal Dougherty Catholic High School.

The Aspira Association, a national nonprofit dedicated to developing the educational and leadership capacity of Hispanic youth, offered the Archdiocese of Philadelphia $8 million for the land and buildings on the sprawling Northeast Philadelphia property.

"Cardinal Dougherty is a beautiful property and we want it," said Alfredo Calderon, executive director of Aspira. "We were the first and only one with an official bid."

The Archdiocese closed Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic High School for Boys at the end of the last school year due to declining enrollment.

Calderon said that the Archdiocese hasn't accepted the offer and speculated that it could be because they were entertaining offers from other entities, including the Philadelphia Police Department, which had reportedly expressed interest in the property.

"The Police Department pulled back without an official offer," Calderon said. "We did [make an offer], and they [the Archdiocese] haven't informed us how to proceed. They want to make sure they do it right, I guess."

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, said that the archdiocese doesn't comment on any negotiations.

Calderon said that the campus would become the new headquarters for the Pennsylvania branch of Aspira. He said that he wants to use the high school's existing facilities to offer more activities for the children whom his organization serves. The campus includes two gyms, a track and a football field.

Aspira is a confederation of nine statewide organizations that provide educational, enrichment and support services to Hispanic youth and their families in schools, community centers and clubs.

Calderon said that the local chapter serves 2,000 students across the city, including at two charter schools it runs, with the intention to consolidate the schools and run a larger, K-12 school out of the Cardinal Dougherty property.

"In our system, kids go all the way from preschool to four years of college," Calderon said. "A lot of the social services depend on keeping people in the cycle; we want to get them out.

Lydia Hernandez-Velez, who became involved with Aspira as a teenager living in New York, came to Philadelphia and served on the Pennsylvania chapter's board for 29 years.

"You can leave the organization, but the organization doesn't leave you," she said.

"What Calderon is doing for these kids is amazing, he truly is a visionary," she said.

Staff writer Regina Medina contributed to this report.

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