Philadelphia Controller: Eight Empty Schools Threaten Security

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Eight vacant schools where investigators found evidence of drug use and vandalism pose a threat to public safety, and at least one should be demolished immediately because of severe structural issues, city Controller Alan Butkovitz said Tuesday.

A new report released by the controller's office urged school officials to secure the properties and establish a plan to address the problems. The district plans to shutter nine more schools in the coming years because of low enrollment.

"Our current review found that the school district continues to allow the majority of its vacant buildings to become neighborhood eyesores and safety hazards," Butkovitz said at a news conference.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said school officials "clearly understand the need for these buildings to be safe and sealed" while looking for buyers or new uses. But vigilance is expensive, he said, and the cash-strapped system is still trying to close a $629 million budget gap that has already forced layoffs and program cuts.

"The priority for us right now is the open buildings," Gallard said.

The controller's report was spurred by a fire that destroyed the long-vacant Edison High School in August. The district had just sold the property a month before to a private developer, but it had sat vacant for more than a decade.

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