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Wanamaker School sale is on track

PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, August 7, 2008

Now that the feds have given the OK, the sale of the John Wanamaker Middle School to Bright Hope Baptist Church’s community-development organization is expected as early as this week.

In December, the School Reform Commission approved selling the North Philadelphia school to Brighter Hope L.P. – in a partnership with the Goldenberg Group Inc., of Blue Bell, Montgomery County – for $10.75 million.

But under the terms of a 1997 consent decree, the district must give the Environmental Protection Agency 60 days’ notice before selling any of 12 school buildings that have cancer-causing PCBs in electrical transformers.

Wanamaker, which sits on a 4.5-acre site at Cecil B. Moore Avenue at 11th Street, is a part of that consent decree.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals that insulate and cool the transformers.

On July 18, district officials requested a waiver of the 60-day notice requirement, the EPA said.

At first, EPA denied the waiver. But yesterday, the regional EPA office granted it.

“The school district has demonstrated its commitment to completing the remaining tasks under the consent decree, and consequently EPA doesn’t object to the completion of the sale of the school,” EPA spokeswoman Donna Heron said yesterday.

She said that the EPA required the district to re-inspect the transformers “to make sure the PCBs weren’t leaking.” The district also had to file a deed notice so that any future buyers would know that PCBs were in the building.

Brighter Hope officials told the district that they would build “an empowerment village” that includes housing, retail and a charter school.

Bright Hope, once led by former U.S. Rep. William H. Gray III, is on 12th Street at Cecil B. Moore. The pastor, Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said that he could not discuss a pending property sale.