Butkovitz Finds School District’s Vacant Buildings Are Dangerous Eyesores

Audit Date: December 6, 2011
Audit Categories
  • Investigation
Controller: Alan Butkovitz

Executive Summary

For Immediate Release:
December 6, 2011

Contact: Harvey Rice

Butkovitz Finds School District’s Vacant Buildings
Are Dangerous Eyesores

Some are structurally unsafe – few are secure – littered with trash,
spent hypodermic syringes and used condoms

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View video of unsafe & unsanitary vacant schools

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released a review of the Philadelphia School District’s vacant buildings that found the empty facilities are creating unsafe and unsanitary conditions for surrounding neighborhoods. Some of the schools were littered with spent hypodermic syringes, used condoms, piles of garbage and human waste scattered around the buildings.

The City Controller conducted the review as part of an ongoing assessment of the School District’s capital assets, as well as an examination to determine if the District’s vacant schools are being maintained in a satisfactory manner. All eight vacant schools owned by the District were included in the review.

According to Butkovitz, three of the eight vacant buildings are in poor condition with one facility, the former Roberto Clemente Middle School which has been vacant for 13 years, in serious disrepair.

“The former Roberto Clemente Middle School is in such a dilapidated and dangerous state that it needs to be tightly secured and demolished immediately,” said Butkovitz, at today’s press conference.

Four months ago, the former Edison High School in North Philadelphia erupted into a four-alarm fire. While the fire took place one month after the property was sold to a private developer, the school stood vacant for over a decade. The Controller’s Office raised serious concern about the building in 2008 but only minor steps were taken by the School District.

“It was a disaster waiting to happen, and unfortunately, it did happen,” said Butkovitz. “We recommended in 2008 that the School District should have demolished the building.”

“Our current review found that the School District continues to allow the majority of its vacant buildings to become neighborhood eyesores and safety hazards.”

At both Rudolph Walton and Simon Muhr, the Controller’s investigators found easy access to the properties which had used hypodermic syringes, numerous needle caps, tiny plastic “drug” baggies, and used condoms in areas surrounding the actual school buildings. Human waste was also found at these schools.

Many of the schools and adjacent grounds were littered with piles of trash containing empty beer and liquor bottles. Three of the schools – Roberto Clemente, Beeber Wynnefield and Simon Muhr – are recognized crime areas involving robberies, drug possessions, weapons and assault offenses that all occurred since the schools became vacant.

“I strongly recommend that the School District formulate a corrective action plan immediately and begin implementation within 90 days,” said Butkovitz. “It is also recommended that a short-term corrective action plan be put in place to remove all hazardous and unsanitary obstacles. This includes securing all school buildings to prevent unlawful entry and illegal activity.”

Butkovitz continued, “Police or security guards need to be posted at these schools to prohibit unlawful entry and further vandalism.”

With the School District planning to close nine facilities as soon as next year, Controller Butkovitz recommends that before any more schools become vacant that the SRC should adopt a plan that ensure the public that these facilities will be sealed and demolished, if necessary.

“The School District along with the City should take all necessary actions and coordinate efforts to ensure that vacant school buildings do not impose a threat to public safety,” said Butkovitz.


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