Developer eyes William Penn School for senior housing - abc27 WHTM

Developer eyes William Penn School for senior housing

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Covered in dust, littered with glass from broken windows and wafting with the smell of staleness, the former William Penn School can be a sore sight for eyes, but the dirty diamond in the rough had enough twinkle to attract a potential buyer.

Seymour Barget of Landmark Commercial Reality said an out-of-state developer has a tentative agreement to buy the 222,000 square-foot building for an undetermined price.

"It does need a lot of renovation, and it's nice to be able to keep old properties like this in existence in preference to just tearing them down," Barget said.

Barget gave ABC27 News an inside look. Desks and shelves are piled in front of classroom windows in order to stop potential intruders.

Daniel Richardson, a William Penn student in the late 70’s and early 80’s, has a recommendation of his own.

"They should buy it and make it apartments," he said.

Barget said the developer discussed plans for turning the building into apartments for people ages 55 and older. He said the developer was attracted to the size of the school as well as Italian Lake neighborhood.

The school was built in 1926 and served as one of two high schools until 1971 when the school combined with John Harris to form Harrisburg High School.

The school spent many years as a middle school. It also housed technology and alternative programs before closing ahead of the 2010-2011 school year.

The closure brought sadness to many in the community who viewed the school as a cornerstone of success and a building full of promise.

After Gene Veno was named the district's Chief Recovery Officer, his team developed a recovery plan that recommended the district aggressively market its vacant schools.

The former Hamilton, Woodward, Steele and Shimmel schools are on the market, and Pennsylvania Counseling Services has a tentative agreement to purchase Shimmel for $680,000.

If the William Penn deal goes through, Barget believes residents would regain pride.

"I think that's very important,” he said. "A lot of people in this area have gone to school here, their children have gone to school, and their grandchildren have gone to school. It's wonderful to be able to be maintained, renovated and put to a new use."

Barget expects the deal will be finalized within the next 90 days but said it could take up to two years. While a proposal to modernize city zoning goes before City Council Tuesday night, zoning code must be adapted to allow a school institution to be rezoned residential.

Jackie Parker, Director of Economic Development, said the code should have flexibility to allow vacant schools to be repurposed.

"Could there be some other uses for it such as residential, commercial? I think they're taking a look at what that language might reflect," Parker said.

Barget believes there is a potential to sell the mounds of unused school supplies, rows of desks, shelves and classroom supplies.

"Our recommendation would be let's auction it off,” he said. “Let's generate a little extra income for the city."

Regaining revenue is another key part of the tentative sales. Shimmel and William Penn would go back on the property tax roll, a tangible sign of economic growth for Harrisburg.

Barget believes other development will follow.

"Once you have one company come in, you're going to have several others," he said.

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