But in some instances, students would merely be moved from one deteriorating school to another. And in a few cases, students would transfer to worse facilities - even to buildings rated not worth repairing.
Students in many, but not all, 37 schools would have multiple transfer options. The Inquirer compared the building condition for each closing school with the condition for each building that will receive its students.
More than a quarter of the options for students leaving closing schools involve a transfer to a school in worse shape, though the difference is sometimes small. Thirteen of the receiving schools are rated fair to poor.
Danielle Floyd, the district official heading the school-closing process, acknowledged that the district's recommendations, in some cases, would consolidate students into schools with costly maintenance problems.
Officials aimed to transfer students to better buildings but that was not always possible, she said.
"If we could, that would be great, but it's not just that perfect equation, unfortunately," Floyd said.
Consider one of the options faced by sixth- through eighth-grade students at Kinsey Elementary in West Oak Lane. Under a part of the plan, students from Kinsey could transfer to Wagner Middle School. But by the district's own measure, Wagner is a badly deteriorated building.
The district's "facilities condition index" for Wagner - its own measure of what shape the building is in - is .89. Typically, a building with an index above .65 is considered to be in poor condition, a candidate for replacement.
An even more puzzling choice could be faced by the families from Overbrook Elementary, whose students would be directed to Beeber Middle School, which would serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The district's recommendation would shut Overbrook, which has had extensive renovations that brought it into excellent shape, with a facilities score of .03, on par with a new building. Beeber scores a .33 - still in decent shape, but it has been plagued by academic problems and violence for years.
Overall, the district proposes closing 11 schools it rates in good condition.
Elsewhere, students attending Duckrey Elementary in North Philadelphia, at the edge of Temple University's campus, now go to school in a building that's in good shape, a .24 on the facilities scale. But they are to be sent to one rated worse, M.H. Stanton, at .46.
If approved, the closings initiative will move 17,000 students to save the equivalent of 1 percent of the district's total operating budget - money that officials say is necessary to keep the district afloat.
And that expected savings does not take into account the millions in capital improvements that will need to be made to the receiving schools, money that officials said comes from a separate budget, but still figures toward the district's bottom line.
Also, experts caution, large-scale urban school closings often fail to net the cash that districts expect they will.
"It's pretty difficult to project what the long-term savings over time will be," said Emily Dowdall, a researcher at the Pew Charitable Trusts who has studied school closings in urban districts around the country, adding that "the operational savings achieved in the short term were relatively small, in the context of the big-city budget."
Still, after examining Philadelphia's estimated savings, Dowdall said that the district's "projections don't appear to be totally unrealistic."
Floyd, overseeing the closings for the district, and other officials say all the proposed moves are not ideal. But they are necessary thanks to some difficult decisions, with no ideal outcomes. Building new schools is not in the budget.
Though Wagner Middle School is in bad shape, "we have projects underway at that school as we speak," Floyd said. Those included a $1.5 million roof replacement that will begin construction in the fall.
The empty-seat dilemma - 53,000 unused seats district-wide - arose in part from parents' concerns about the district's record on academics and violence. The problem is particularly acute beginning in middle school, where parents are voting with their feet in large numbers for charter schools or special-admissions district schools.
"They're just picking other options," Floyd said.
Ideally, the district would shut middle schools and expand elementary schools to accept students up to eighth grade. But that was impossible for Kinsey or the schools near it.
"We're not in a position to shut down a middle school in that area," Floyd said.
Tiny and already housing trailers on site, Overbrook is too small to become a K-8 school, either.
It may close, but that doesn't mean the district is not still investing - work was recently completed on a $570,450 brand-new roof.
In the case of Duckrey, Floyd said, "you've got a great facility, and no kids." It can hold 676 students and has 279, and the district, which recently borrowed $300 million just to pay teachers and heat buildings for the rest of the year, cannot afford to keep so many small schools open.
Even when the district can transfer students from worse buildings to better ones, fixing them to accommodate the growth won't be cheap.
Communications Tech, a small high school in Southwest Philadelphia rated .47 on the district's scale, is being recommended for closure; its commercial art and cinematography students would be sent to Bartram High, which scored a .33.
But even with a better score, Bartram's building has been problematic for years, according to environmental experts from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
As a result, peeling plaster, damp spots, ceiling damage, and mold are perpetual problems. In some places, there are buckets to catch incoming water, and some classrooms must be evacuated in heavy rainfalls. For more than 10 years, maintenance workers have regularly been at the school performing patch and repair work.
District officials acknowledged that Bartram needs costly repairs. They say a $2.4 million new roof is in the capital budget, and that crews are making necessary repairs in the meantime.
The truth is, Floyd said, the district still has billions in capital needs overall, even after a recent building boom that occurred as the system was shedding students. The current plan has austerity measures dictated by consolidations and repairs, not new construction.
"We've invested a lot, but given our current financial situation, we're not in a position where we can spend $1.9 billion anymore for 4 billion in need," Floyd said. "There's just no way."
Given the district's already enormous facilities needs, will every receiving school be in good shape come September?
Certainly the basics will be covered, officials said - toilets will flush and common areas will be spruced up. But don't bank on brand-new science labs, or other major projects.
"We've also been very clear," Floyd said, "that we're going to be managing expectations here."
The district says the closings will save $28 million, most of that from labor costs, including up to $10.2 million in maintenance and custodial staff; $8.7 million in administrative staff; $3.7 million in teachers, roughly one per closed school, jobs eliminated by attrition, not layoffs; $700,000 in school nurses; and $300,000 in school police.
It predicts savings of about $6 million in utilities, $1 million in terminating leases, and $180,000 in trash removal, for a total of about $30 million. But it also expects an additional $2 million in transportation costs.
But that anticipated savings does not take into account moving expenses or other start-up costs, officials said. And repair projects already underway or just completed don't count against the tally either.
Also, the district is not figuring any money it will make from building sales into the immediate savings, though it projects an additional $28 million from building sales into its five-year budget.
Asked about the costs anticipated in shifting 17,000 students to new schools along with the necessary computers, smart boards, and furniture by September, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said: "There's going to be some costs related to closing schools. How much it will be . . . we're still looking at it."
Contact Kristen Graham
at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-854-5146, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.