West Philadelphia school worries historic preservation could cost millions, halt expansion plans

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- There's concern that the battle between the past and the future could end up costing a West Philadelphia charter school millions of dollars.

School leaders of Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School are fighting to transform an old church building on the middle school campus into a new gym and performing arts space for students, but not everyone is on board.

A local historian told Action News she saw the church and decided to nominate it for consideration to become a historic landmark.

The 130-year-old building sits empty at the corner of 63rd and Callowhill streets.

School leaders said if the church becomes a historic landmark, it'll cause huge financial problems.

They recently bought it and intended to convert it into a space for P.E. and performing arts because students are currently playing in the parking lot.

Under historic protection, school leaders said the cost to renovate will skyrocket by millions to preserve the building.

"In a case like this, I think the historic commission can't view this in a vacuum. It's not something that's just about the certain structures of architecture," said Noah Tennant, CEO Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter Schools. "We also have to realize how it's going to impact a neighborhood and how it's going to impact the people who live in that neighborhood and most specifically, most important to me, how it's going to impact the 350 young boys we're trying to educate."

Community impact will be taken into consideration, according to Paul Chrystie, deputy director of communications for the Department of Planning and Development.

The school currently has more than 700 signatures of support.

The historian who believes the church should be protected didn't want to speak on camera, but told Action News she worries a significant portion of the church could be torn down during the expansion.

The school says it could be a possibility depending on final design plans.

The historian also said she's nominated roughly 80 buildings over the past 30 years and has never been contested until now.

The historical commission will make a final decision Friday morning during their public hearing.
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