November 11th, 2004

West Phila. high school's name is up for sale

By Susan Snyder
Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia’s new high school being built in partnership with Microsoft Corp.  has attracted worldwide attention for its anticipated technological feats, but will it attract lucrative bidders interested in naming it?

The Philadelphia School District intends to find out.

For $5 million, the district plans to sell naming rights for the school, which is scheduled to open in September 2006 in West Philadelphia near the zoo, said Ellen Savitz, the district’s chief development officer.

And it also will sell naming rights for individual classrooms (about $25,000 each), the auditorium, and other sections of the school, Savitz said. Collectively, the effort could raise $15 million to support the project, she estimated.

“If Lockheed Martin decided to name it,” she said, “it could be that.”

But there are restrictions. No alcohol or tobacco companies, for example, are eligible. And the School Reform Commission ultimately would have a say over whose bids to honor.

Plans for naming rights came as the school panel yesterday announced proposed neighborhood boundaries for the school and approved a 40-year lease with the Fairmount Park Commission for the site.

Boundaries for the school, at 41st Street and Parkside Avenue, largely take in the feeder patterns of University City High and Overbrook High, district officials said.

Interest already is intense among local residents hoping to get their children in the school.

Seventy-five percent of the slots will go to students within the neighborhood boundaries. If more eligible students apply than slots available, a lottery will be held. Students do not need certain test scores or grades to be eligible.

The other 25 percent of slots will be open to students citywide, with selection also to be determined by lottery, according to the district proposal.

The boundaries, Savitz said, are larger than those for a regular school because the district wants to make availability as broad as possible, while still keeping it largely a neighborhood school.

District officials emphasized that both the boundaries and admission plans are subject to change, depending upon input from City Council.

Council has a say because the district is leasing land from the Park Commission.  Council is to consider the lease agreement next Thursday.

Dubbed “The School of the Future,” it is expected to use the most advanced technology available for education and operations.

With the assistance of Microsoft, the district is working with experts from other countries, including Australia and England, and professors from prestigious universities, including Harvard and Stanford.

It will open with a class of 175 ninth graders. Tenth grade will be added the following year, and 11th and 12th grades in subsequent years, with enrollment eventually reaching 750.

Under the lease with the Park Commission, the district, in return for use of the land, agreed to pay the commission $1 million. The district also agreed to give a parcel it owns at 8730 Old Lion Rd. in Roxborough to the commission for recreational purposes, and it committed to upgrade and maintain athletic fields near the Microsoft school.

District officials and the commission said they were pleased with the terms of the deal.

“It’s nice to have a good deal where you get your fields improved, you get much-needed financial help, and you get a great facility in your park system,” said Robert N.C. Nix 3d, chairman of the Park Commission.

District officials say they hope to break ground in February.

Of the naming rights, Savitz explained that because the school had a special focus, it would need additional funding.

In 1997, she said, when the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts opened on Broad Street, the district offered up naming rights to the school for $5 million.

It got no takers, she said, but it received a lot of interest in naming certain rooms. For example, Wachovia Auditorium is a naming right for which the bank paid $750,000. The school received $7 million for various naming rights.

Microsoft, which is offering expertise but not money for the new high school, does not plan to opt for naming rights, because it is hoping to replicate elsewhere the model it builds in Philadelphia, she said. And it wants to do that without providing extra funding. It will, however, host a Microsoft hospitality center or visitor center within the school, she said.

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