The closings of both Germantown High and Robert Fulton Elementary School pose a serious concern to the community; residents fear the block becoming vacant in the heart of central Germantown will have a negative influence and create problems within the neighborhood.
Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster III of Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, also across the street from Fulton Elementary, described the empty building to be like a “wasteland.”
The church leadership expressed that without the schools in Germantown, “our ministries will decrease. We will no longer have a student base,” said Rev. Foster.
He says his congregation is closely tied to the school and many members of the church are retired teachers. Though he says he will continue to work with the community to try and prevent the block from becoming blighted. “I am the type of pastor that likes to be involved with the community.”
Across the street from Fulton Elementary, Rev. Timothy M. Collins of Providence Baptist Church of Germantown is worried about the empty building. “That will attract some vagrancy,” he said “hopefully with the community’s involvement we can put something in these buildings that the community can use and it can be a plus for the community.”
Michelle Schwenk, a 2nd grade teacher at Fulton Elementary believes the closing is “going to be really detrimental to this community.”
“We’re going to have this giant empty block in the middle of Germantown, which I think is just going to bring down morale here because schools bring people together so this is really going to separate people,” said Schwenk.
Constance Booth-Shannon (Connie Booth), a 1989 Germantown High graduate, shared her concern over the building vacancy. “Inactivity breeds crime,” she said, “when you don’t put the emphasis on education, crime is what happens.”
State Representative Stephen Kinsey met with community stakeholders a few months ago to discuss the future of the two buildings. “It was said that people in the community would like it to still remain an educational institution,” he said.
Representative Kinsey stated that they want the community input, especially if the buildings are to be used for anything other than a school. This is to protect the interests of the community, he said.
Since the meeting, a few different possibilities have been thrown around as of what will occupy the buildings, such as, an arts center and a retirement home. “We have to find these funds to keep the building open,” said Representative Kinsey.
“What we don’t want sitting there is an empty facility that folks are going into, robbing the pipes and the copper out, we don’t want it to become vandalized,” he said.
Representative Kinsey also referenced Ada Lewis Middle School of East Germantown that has previously closed. “What we don’t want is Fulton sitting there empty for years and years and years to come like the Ada Lewis School,” he said.
Randall Thomas, whose has grandchildren at Fulton Elementary, emphasized how it is going to take time for whatever will come next in the building, but there will no longer be school security to watch over what was once a safe playground and environment.
“Without that now we don’t know how that’s going to affect the safety of our children,” said Thomas “this neighborhood needs this school.”
Representative Kinsey dismissed rumors of LaSalle University purchasing the Germantown High building and using it as dorm space. He noted he spoke with the office of the president of LaSalle, which responded the space is just too far from campus as one of the reasons.
“The community has a right to sit down and talk with any developer that could possibly buy the space,” said Representative Kinsey. He also noted there has been 2 Germantown business meetings in the past 6 months and they are working with local businesses and listening to their concerns for the future.
“Myself and the councilwoman (Cindy Bass), we’re working pretty hard to try and bring resources to the community, to try and keep the community viable,” said Representative Kinsey “and education plays a major part in that so we’re doing what we can to not just let it sit there for years and years to come.”
They are also working with some community development corporations that are in the Germantown area with the intent on creating a fundraiser that will market Germantown to help spur business activity for the community.
This potential rebuilding of Germantown will be a collaborative effort with the school district, SRC, Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, local Germantown business association, Community Development Corporations and residents.
Representative Kinsey also noted his recent effort in reaching out to Dr. Hite, the school district’s superintendent, to preserve artifacts in the buildings. He said this was “so we never lose sight of the community and those institutions.”
“I just want to make sure that folks understand it’s going to take a team effort,” said Representative Kinsey “it’s not going to happen overnight.”