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New Charter Schools In Northeast Philly Bring Modern Office Amenities To K-12 Education

A satellite image of the former Crown Holdings headquarters in the Tacony neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, turned into a charter school in 2019

The arms race for amenities in office buildings comes with some fringe benefits, as the students of Philadelphia's newest charter school are discovering.

MaST Community Charter School is opening its second and third locations this month, one a new construction facility in Tacony and the other a redeveloped office building that housed Crown Holdings until last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Crown Holdings sold its 240K SF headquarters and the surrounding land in the outer reaches of Northeast Philadelphia to New Jersey-based Simone Realty for $9M in 2017. MaST's parent organization, the Isaac Newton Foundation, then purchased the property from Simone for $13.7M in February, according to Reonomy data.

MaST, which stands for Math, Science and Technology, built MaST II in Tacony on a former industrial site for $20M, which went to both the three-story school building itself and athletic fields surrounding the building and extending to the Delaware River, according to the Inquirer. A second building is planned on the 19-acre site to include more facilities, like an athletic gym.

A fitness center was already part of the amenities in the Crown Holdings HQ (now MaST III), along with a cafeteria. Project architect Ewing Cole made minimal changes to each to suit primary school students, the Inquirer reports. MaST still added to the offerings at the 41-acre campus with a Ninja Warrior-branded obstacle gym, and plans another building and educational garden in the adjacent parking lot.

Both science-focused schools will have academic amenities befitting their specializations, with libraries upgraded to "media centers" outfitted with all manner of screens and electronics. The bells and whistles have drawn substantial interest: MaST reported that 27,000 students applied for the 900 spots at MaST III this year.

Rather than scrapping in the cutthroat competition for funds in the Philadelphia School District, MaST funded the new schools' construction with bonds sold by the Isaac Newton Foundation. To purchase and redevelop the Crown campus, MaST paid a total of $34M, the Inquirer reports. The terms of MaST's charter require half of MaST III's student body to come from the nearby low-income neighborhoods of Olney, Frankford, Logan and Tioga.