November 29, 2017
The historic Central High School in Olney will soon embark on a $42 million renovation and expansion project that will transform the North Philadelphia campus for generations of students to come.
Supported by a $10 million gift from Central High alumnus Joseph M. Field, the project will feature a new Performing Arts Center, outdoor spaces dedicated to STEM education and a brand new Student Commons anchored by a Digital Media & Technology Center.
Central High, chartered in 1836, has been located at Ogontz and Olney Avenues since 1939. It is the second-oldest public high school in the United States and one of the last schools built in Philadelphia before the start of World War II.
"Central High School ... provides opportunities for training and exhibition in the performing arts, but has lacked the physical facilities necessary to enhance and display performance characteristics in a state of the art manner,” Field said at the unveiling of the project. "It is my hope and endeavor, with the aid of fellow graduates of Central, to finance and construct the performing arts facility ... which should put Central’s performing arts on par of excellence with its liberal arts and sciences."
The Style Moderne building, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, is in need of significant repairs and capital improvements in addition to the new facilities planned for the five-acre campus.
Field, also the founder of Bala Cynwyd-based radio broadcaster Entercom Communications, said he will match dollar for dollar most of the contributions made for the multi-phase expansion.
The School District of Philadelphia has approved $8.1 million in funding for site development and loading, including the outdoor classroom spaces and rehabilitation of a parking lot, driveways and deteriorating retaining walls. Plans call for relocating the existing vehicular entry away from the busy intersection of Olney and Ogontz avenues.
“We are excited to embark on this ambitious capital campaign at Central High School, and are thankful for the individuals and organizations who are supporting our students in such a significant way," said school district Superintendent Dr. William H. Hite. "The improvements slated to take place under this project will take the high quality public education Central students receive to the next level, and will provide so many more unique opportunities for students and staff.”
A 3D model and renderings presented at the project's unveiling were prepared by MGA Partners of Philadelphia, the architectural firm selected to lead the renovation.
"We are planning to significantly upgrade our current campus so that we can enhance and add opportunities in all areas of STEAM," said Central's President Timothy J. McKenna. "Our students deserve the best, and we are working with the School District of Philadelphia and the Associated Alumni of Central High School to make this master plan a reality.”