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Northeast Community Propel Academy Opens its Doors for 1,600 Philadelphia Students

PHILADELPHIA, PA — After more than a year of remote learning, 1,600 students from the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) recently returned to school in the new Northeast Community Propel Academy, a 180,000-square-foot K-8 facility resulting from a public-private partnership (P3) between the district and the experts at Gilbane and Stantec. The building is modern, vibrant, and student-centered, providing an engaging new learning environment for the district, which has experienced extraordinary and sustained growth.

"The Northeast Community Propel Academy will provide an engaging and dynamic 21st century learning environment for the students of Philadelphia for many years to come, and our team at Gilbane is proud to deliver the school on budget and on time, despite the challenges that the pandemic brought our way," said Ed Broderick, President and CEO of Gilbane Development Company.

“The Northeast Community Propel Academy is a successful model for turnkey project delivery, harnessing the exciting educational opportunities that exist in having K-8 learning environments under one roof,” said Luis Vildostegui, Senior Principal and Education Leader in Stantec’s Philadelphia office. “We value the incredible level of engagement from our project partners, stakeholders, and the community. Together, these voices created a special place that engages nature, both physically and as a metaphor, to reinforce the idea of school as a moment of relief, a place for exploration, imagination, and socialization.”

Financing for the project was completed one week before COVID-19 shut down schools in March 2020, yet Gilbane and Stantec completed the $80-million social infrastructure project on time for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

The Northeast Community Propel Academy consolidates clusters of classrooms and collaborative zones around shared media and tech commons within each grade level house. With a total of nine clusters, grades can be organized vertically or horizontally with the number of classrooms adjustable as needed. The overall arrangement efficiently combines collaborative areas for small learning groups adjacent to media and tech commons, promoting ease of collaboration and the ability to allow for directed break-out activities appropriate to grade level needs.

“We know this has been a tough 18 months for everyone, and there will continue to be challenges as we navigate the pandemic. But school reopening has been a long-awaited moment for the district,” said Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. “To see the joy on the faces of students, staff and families as they returned to school is a feeling I can’t quite describe, and it has been especially exciting to see our Propel Academy community return to a beautiful, new, state-of-the-art building.”

Stantec provided architecture, interior design, and civil engineering services for the facility. The urban fabric of Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park offered opportunities for the new K-8 school as students from typically urban areas are able to connect with nature. Taking cues from the site, the design team fully embraced next-gen learning and created a unique, vibrant design that connects students as one community.

All stakeholders were invited to explore design strategies and options in a collaborative and integrated fashion. Stantec’s knowledge of SDP’s standards and ability to navigate Philadelphia’s regulatory agencies helped the project team remain on schedule. The team also embraced principles guided by LEED for Schools and WELL Building Standards for Educational Facilities in many components of the school’s design.

Gilbane Building Company served as the design-builder, and Gilbane Development Company as the developer. To date, Gilbane has overseen more than $3.5 billion in P3 projects, with 40 projects completed or underway.