Supporters put together high school expansion plan for Roman

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Roman Catholic High School, where an expansion and land-acquisition plan will give the school a new gym, more classrooms, a fine arts center, and expanded parking.

A group of business people and professionals has assembled properties for new classrooms, a field house, a fine arts center, and parking at all-boys Roman Catholic High School so it can grow beyond its 124-year-old Gothic home at Broad and Vine Streets.

Roman's backers have acquired a parcel of land behind the school from a homeless-services program, the Sunday Breakfast Association Inc. Roman will use the space to construct a field house and classrooms that will connect to the main building.

"The new field house will become the main gym," said Barry Howard, executive vice president at Philadelphia developer Equus Capital Partners and a member of Roman's advisory board. It will replace Roman's basketball court atop the existing building, a low-ceilinged, snug space that has foiled jump shooters for decades.

Howard said the gym "is not built to regulation" and does not come close to seating Roman's 900-plus students.

Donors have also raised $2.07 million to buy a two-story, 24,500-square-foot warehouse and office building and adjacent lot at 13th and Wood Streets, a block and a half east of the school.

"Roman has purchased the property for expansion of its fine arts program and for additional parking," said Michael Barmash, senior vice president at Colliers International, who brokered the sale with colleague Andrew McGhee.

"On the existing campus, the first phase [of construction] will cost about $3.5 million, the second phase will bring the total to $7.5 million," Howard said.

The Wood Street development will cost from $3 million to $4 million, Howard estimated.

Howard said the group of supporters had raised money for Roman from a string of donors led by the Connelly Foundation. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has agreed to help, said Thomas A. Leonard, a lawyer, real estate investor, and anchor of Roman's fund-raising since the school was threatened with closure in the 1980s.

"You've got to do something with your money," Leonard said.

The school backers acquired the property adjoining the school by swapping another parcel they controlled to the Sunday Breakfast program.

The swap was "small but complicated," said Jerald Goodman, a member of Roman's advisory board and a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath L.L.P., which did the legal work pro bono. When the Wood Street property came on the market, the Roman supporters "decided to jump on it," since the school "is bursting at the seams" and needs the space, Goodman added.

Barmash credited Howard and other members of Roman's advisory board for clinching the deal.

"Barry led the charge," agreed Dan DiLella, president of Equus and also an advisory board member at Roman.

Alumni such as Leonard and DiLella have recruited non-Catholics, such as Goodman, Howard, and former Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. chief Peter Longstreth to advise the school and secure its future.

"The whole point of the board of advisers is to expand the Roman community beyond alumni," Howard said.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia sees Roman as a model for recruiting "high-caliber business leaders and alumni intimately involved in the strategic growth of our schools," said Christopher Mominey, chief operating officer and secretary for education at the archdiocese.

"The growth and innovation at Roman is the exact reason we are giving increased authority to our boards at the local level," Mominey said. Advisory boards with business and professional members have also strategized and raised funds for Conwell-Egan in Bucks County, Archbishop Carroll in Delaware County, and other high schools in the region once threatened by falling enrollment.

The revival of the residential neighborhoods around Center City and Roman's proximity to the city's corporate district have also helped.

"Roman is unusual within the archdiocesan system because it is in Center City and has relationships with all the local institutions," Howard said.

With the population growing in Center City and nearby neighborhoods, Roman's enrollment will grow, Howard said.

A perennial power in Philadelphia schoolboy athletics, Roman Catholic has done well in the past 20 years sending students to top universities, Howard said. He also pointed to the school's students doing well in other extracurricular activities, such as moot court and language competitions.

"With the success, the school needs additional facilities," Howard said.

 


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