Strawberry Mansion unites to save two schools

VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Dawn Hawkins, with son Khyrie, 12, and daughter Amani, 8, at a community meeting opposing school closings on Thursday.
VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Dawn Hawkins, with son Khyrie, 12, and daughter Amani, 8, at a community meeting opposing school closings on Thursday.
Posted: January 08, 2013

A COUPLE OF YEARS ago, Strawberry Mansion activists successfully lobbied SEPTA to remodel, rather than demolish, the old Trolley Depot on Ridge Avenue at 33rd Street near Fairmount Park.

Both the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center and the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corp. won a Community Action Award last April from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for persuading SEPTA to preserve most of the old depot and to use salvaged bricks from the old shed for a new shed.

"They came to us and said: 'This is a landmark. It's part of our heritage. You can't let them take the angels off of 33rd Street," Melissa Jest, of the Preservation Alliance, said of the cherubs carved into the side of the old depot. "They're looking over us.'"

Less than a year later, Tyrone Williams, of the Strawberry Mansion NAC, and Tonnetta Graham, executive director of the area's Community Development Corp., are fighting to save two other landmarks: Strawberry Mansion High School and L.P. Hill Elementary.

The two schools, which take up an entire block of Ridge Avenue, between 31st and 32nd Street, are among the 37 that the Philadelphia School District has proposed closing in June.

Williams and Graham led a community meeting at the high school last week to prepare for Tuesday night's district meeting on the closures at Dobbins High School at 22nd Street and Lehigh Avenue.

The School Reform Commission is to decide which schools to close by March.

One parent, Selene Barbie, who has three children at L.P. Hill, said she lives across the street from the school. She worried that her three children might have to go to different schools next year because of the proposed closing and grade reconfigurations.

"I have to be at work at 6:45 a.m.," Barbie said. "My husband gets the children ready for school now. But we don't know where [our] children will go to school and if I will have to lose my job to make sure they get there."

Tonya Sears, an alumna of Strawberry Mansion, said the community should sue the district to stop the closings.

She said the neighborhood lost a lot of residents in the 1980s and 1990s because of drug activity, but she sees things beginning to turn around.

"People feel the reason they want to close Strawberry Mansion is that it's prime real estate," she said. "It's next to the Dell [Art Center], and walking distance to the golf course and the new bus depot."

Sears, a former district teacher, said she understands that the competition from charter schools means that some city schools have to close.

"So close a few schools in each neighborhood, not 10 in North Philadelphia," she said.

Tonnetta Graham, of the Community Development Corp., said her organization recently completed three housing developments in the area, including The Brownstones on Diamond, a group of family apartments with a waiting list of tenants.

Others noted that the neighborhood's namesake Strawberry Mansion in Fairmount Park is being renovated, and children from a neighborhood after-school program go to its gardens for nature walks.

"This neighborhood is under revitalization, and we need these schools to be here so we can continue our revitalization plans," Graham said.


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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