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Community Forum Discusses Alternative Uses For Germantown High School Building

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - AxisPhilly held a community forum yesterday to discuss alternative uses for the Germantown High School building. The historic school is one of nearly two dozen Philadelphia public schools slated to close at the end of the academic term.  More from Community Affairs reporter, Cherri Gregg.

At nearly a century old, Germantown High School is a brick building that looms on Germantown Avenue. It packs a lot of history and emotion in its walls from the thousands of alumni who love it, but it also is the source of fear-- fear that when it closes it will remain vacant and destroy the fabric of the neighborhood as it tries to rebuild.

"We have been working very, very hard to turn Germantown and its business corridor around and this [closure] has definitely been a big blow," says Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who sat on the panel.  "I spoke to the owner of a consignment shop who told me she was going out of business when the school closes because the students were her main customers."

Bass was part of a panel of experts, community leaders and politicians spoke to a full house at the First United Methodist Church on Germantown Avenue, laying out potential options for the building, such as an educational job training facility, a retirement community or an arts and cultural center. Some said the options are limited given the size, age and zoning for the building.

"Finding reuses for these schools can be really daunting, there are a lot of challenges associated with them," says Emily Dowdell of the Pew Charitable Trusts. "They are older, they are larger. And both of these apply to Germantown High School."

But some residents seemed reluctant to accept the alternatives. They are still holding on to the hope, that Germantown "the school" will remain open.

"That's not the conversation that we are really trying to have," says David Hoxton, he graduated from Germantown High School in 1983. "The conversation we are trying to have is how to keep the school open."

"We want this school to stay in the community, it's a historic community, it means a lot," says like Vera Primes, president of the Germantown HS Alumni Association.

But the community refuses to give up.

"Every time something has come up in the community to frustrate it, but out of that frustration has come hope," says Betty Turner, longtime resident and neighborhood leader.

According to a report by Pew Trusts, Philadelphia has re-purposed 11 schools since 2005, while six still remain vacant.

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