"What's going to happen to the lot? Are they going to plant flowers?" wondered Marrero, 42, who drives his son a half-mile to Wiggins Elementary.
Some area residents have rejoiced over the board's decision not to accept the proposal for a privately run public school submitted by a partnership of the Norcross Foundation Inc., a charity created by the family of State Assemblyman Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and his brother George E. Norcross 3d; the charitable foundation of Cooper University Hospital, which George Norcross chairs; and one of the nation's largest charter-school operators, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). George Norcross is a managing partner of the company that owns The Inquirer.
The rejection, they said, was a grassroots victory.
"People feel empowered," said Keith Walker, a frequent critic of the county Democratic machine, who was against privatization of a Lanning Square school. Residents no longer want to have their fates decided by political insiders, he said.
The plan for the multi-school KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy was blocked on a 4-4 vote with one abstention.
Three proposals to build Renaissance schools in other parts of the city were unanimously rejected, also with one abstention.
Had the KIPP school been approved, Camden would have been the first city in the state to implement a public-private partnership - created under the Urban Hope Act enacted in January - in which nonprofits build and operate schools and receive from each Renaissance student's home district up to 95 percent of what the district that would have spent on that pupil.
On Thursday, there were no answers as to what will come next for the children of Lanning Square, who have been divided between two schools in the district.
Marrero, who has spent nearly his entire life in the neighborhood, has seen weeds grow where his old school stood. The empty lot is surrounded by a tall fence.
After waiting years for the state to build a replacement, Marrero joined the chorus of residents who said "we just want a school." It didn't matter if it was a traditional public school or a Renaissance school, Marrero said.
Neighborhood activist Sheila Davis, who was on board with the KIPP plan, was still emotional Thursday about the board's decision.
"It's not fair," Davis said, adding that the school board should tell the neighborhood's parents "why their kids are not going to have a school in five or six years."
A representative of the state School Development Authority, which gives the green light to public school construction, said Lanning Square was still on its list of 110 "priority projects." Since the agency changed its ranking system last year, however, Lanning Square has not been among the projects considered most pressing.
"We don't have a timetable for when additional projects will be approved, nor do we have any information as to what projects will advance," authority spokeswoman Edye Maier said Thursday.
The school board has had ongoing conversations about the Lanning Square situation, according to several members. They would not reveal details of the closed-session talks.
In the meantime, board member Ray Lamboy said, the district needs to "step up [its] game," because efforts by private entities to open public schools in the city are unlikely to let up.
"We need to respond to that competition," Lamboy said Thursday.
Board member Sean Brown, who voted against the KIPP plan, said the five-year strategic plan the board approved this week provides a road map for the district's schools.
"Students will have a really good education and there won't be a need for alternatives for parents," Brown said.
Those behind the proposed KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy have been "strategizing" what to do next to move their project forward, said Susan Bass-Levin, president of the Cooper Foundation.
The other rejected companies are considering whether to attempt to launch traditional charter schools or to try again for a Renaissance school. The Renaissance pilot period is three years.
Universal Cos., one of the prospective operators, "is weighing all options. . . . Speaking to the state is one of them, along with following up with members of the board," said Devon Allen, spokesman for the nonprofit.
Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow