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June 12, 2024

Frankford High School to fully reopen in 2025 after asbestos abatement

The $20 million project will ensure the building is not hazardous and add new ceilings, lights and refinished wood floors.

Education Schools
Frankford High asbestos Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Frankford High School will reopen for the 2025-26 academic year after a nearly $20 million asbestos abatement project is completed. The picture above shows the School District of Philadelphia's administration building.

The School District of Philadelphia will spend nearly $20 million to ensure Frankford High School does not pose health hazards after it shut down last year due to asbestos.

The school is on schedule to fully reopen for the 2025-26 school year after an asbestos abatement project is completed, the district announced Tuesday. The project includes the removal of asbestos from the 108-year-old building and a "refresh" to the rest of the high school.

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"Frankford has been an important and historic center for learning for more than a century in Philadelphia, and we are confident this investment will enable us to safely reopen the building to students and staff," School District Chief Operating Officer Oz Hill said. "We are grateful for the patience and cooperation of the Frankford community and are working cooperatively with school leadership and meeting every quarter to provide updates on our progress."

Frankford High School was one of six high schools that closed in April 2023 due to asbestos exposure. The school had been inaccurately labeled in the 1990s as "non-asbestos containing" during a sampling test. District officials took a closer look last year during a comprehensive review of schools following asbestos discoveries and related closures. 

Exposure to asbestos, a carcinogen, increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the membrane that covers the lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also can cause scarring of the lungs and pleural disease, which causes changes to the lung's membrane and lung cavity. The risk of disease is affected by several factors, including the amount of asbestos in the air and the length of exposure.

Students in grades 10, 11 and 12 have been attending classes in the school's D-wing, which is sealed off from the main portion of the building. Ninth graders have been attending Roberto Clemente Middle School. This setup will continue through the abatement project, district officials said.

To start, workers will photograph and document the current space. They then will remove plaster ceilings, enclose asbestos by adding laminate panels on the walls and remove vinyl asbestos tile from the basement. All asbestos abatement and removal work will be done during the summer or after school days conclude and students and staff have left the building.

After the asbestos abatement is complete, the school will get new ceilings, energy-efficient light fixtures, a coat of paint and new flooring in the cafeteria. Wood floors will be refinished, and the district also plans to replace the school's HVAC system following the reopening.

The district selected the abatement plan because a full demolition and reconstruction of the school would have cost more than $300 million and taken years to complete, officials said. Gutting the school and rebuilding the inside would have cost about $160 million and required a similar amount of time. 

Some materials containing asbestos will remain in the building through this process, the district said, but asbestos is only an issue when it becomes airborne. Frankford High School will receive be inspected twice each year to ensure students aren't being exposed to asbestos.