Drexel buys University City High School

Posted: June 18, 2014

DREXEL University closed on the purchase of University City High School yesterday, netting the school district $21.1 million after closing costs and after paying off a few outstanding loans.

Drexel's plans for development of the 14-acre parcel, however, are contingent on the passage of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's zoning bill this week, which would lift restrictions clearing the way for the university's latest venture.

In an interview yesterday, Blackwell said she is confident her bill will pass Thursday, City Council's last session before summer break.

"We'll have unanimous support," she told the Daily News.

"It was tough negotiations, but it's very important to my district and to the city, so we're glad that we're finally moving along."

Some opposition to the proposal came from neighborhood groups worried about building heights and aboveground parking lots. Those groups now say they are satisfied, after being reassured that their voices would be heard in the master-planning process.

Drexel, along with Wexford Science & Technology, plans to develop the site into residential, retail, office, laboratory and recreational spaces, with the possibility of a K-8 public school. The project entails about $1 billion in investments.

"It represents an exciting and rare opportunity to convert an underutilized and vacant property into a vibrant center of activity," John A. Fry, Drexel's president, said in a statement.

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said proceeds from the high-school sale are needed now to help pay the district's bills by the current fiscal year's end.

"The truth is, right now we're still looking at a $96 million shortfall for next fiscal year. If that stands, we'll have to make some severe cuts to our schools - schools already working with very few resources," he said.

There's one last chance for Council to amend a bill that would allow the city to borrow $55 million for the district. Gallard said school proponents are pushing for Council to approve that additional borrowing before Thursday, but it would require another Council session before June 30, the end of the school district's current fiscal year.


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