Apr. 5, 2010
Penn neighborhood blooms around a top school
By Stephen Seplow
For The Inquirer
The Penn Alexander School in University City: The Philadelphia School District and the University of Pennsylvania came together almost a decade ago to build the ultramodern K-8 school at 42d and Spruce Streets.
The school, with math and reading rankings well above the state average, has helped make the Spruce Hill community one of the most sought-after in the city, bringing rapid change in a neighborhood that was seen as gasping for air 15 years ago.
Housing prices are up, crime is down, and amenities such as Clark Park and the popular neighborhood swimming pool have been upgraded. And there are a lot more children.
Melani Lamond, a longtime real estate agent in the neighborhood, remembers those outside the catchment being "worried that their neighborhoods would be destroyed. Everyone would want to move in the catchment area and that's all." That, in fact, has not happened.
Penn contributes $1,300 in extra funding per student each year, which helps give kids what they can't get in most other schools: art, music, dedicated science facilities, and more. Fewer families are fleeing when their children reach school age, and more middle-class families are buying or renting homes that landlords once rented to college students. Now a house in the catchment area will cost about $100,000 more than the same house across the line.
In the fall Milk & Honey, the first gourmet grocery in the area, opened on Baltimore Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets.
Across the street from Milk & Honey is the impossibly cramped Bindlestiff Books in 2005.
The Parent-Infant center is in the midst of a $1.5 million expansion partially funded by Penn. The center serves 240 children in two groups - infants to preschoolers and those up to sixth grade who come after school, and the expansion will add 50 spots. Roberts said the waiting list for infants can reach 18 months and many are registered before they are born. "Lots of kids on our waiting list have the first name of 'Baby,' " she said.