Philly's Central High gets $10M gift for major expansion

Thursday, 30 November 2017, 02:07:40 AM. The Philadelphia magnet school unveiled a $42 million public-private capital campaign that plans for a performing arts center and upgrades to academic and athletic spaces.

Central High School on Wednesday announced a $42 million capital campaign to improve and expand its campus, propelled by a $10 million donation by an alumnus.

Joseph M. Field, founder of Entercom Communications Corporation, has pledged what is believed to be the largest single gift in the school’s history. It would go toward building a performing arts center, a 400-seat venue that would accommodate musical, theatrical and dance performances. It would feature a scene shop and dressing rooms, and would allow outside groups to perform at the school.

The announcement made during a Wednesday morning ceremony was attended by Mayor Kenney, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and others. Groundbreaking is set for January 2019.

The Philadelphia School District has also signed off on $8.1 million toward the project. Donors would foot the remainder of the bill, with Field matching most contributions.

Field, whose Bala Cynwyd firm recently finalized a merger with CBS Radio, graduated from the elite magnet school in 1949.

Camera icon Courtesy of the Associated Alumni of Central High School An artist’s rendering of a planned expansion to Philadelphia’s Central High School, which would include improved outside spaces, and a performing arts center.

“Central High School provides an extraordinary opportunity for all who enter to receive an outstanding high school education and likely admission to college at a level that their overall achievement merits,” Field said in a statement. “It provides a pathway to success in virtually any area of endeavor involving the liberal arts and sciences.”

Central has strong performing arts programs, Field believes, but lacks the physical space and resources to offer state-of-the-art facilities. His gift and those of other alumni can change that, he said.

Forty-one percent of Central students participate in music, theater, dance, and the visual arts through courses or extracurricular activities.

In addition to the performing arts center, the project would also spruce up the exterior of the school at Ogontz and Olney Avenues, providing outdoor classrooms, improvements to the parking lot, academic and athletic facilities.

Key to the project’s completion will be the strength of its active alumni network.

“It is now our responsibility to help future Central students to continue that wonderful experience, by building an expansion, and renovating the iconic building that is approaching 80 years old,” said Charles Steinberg, a co-chair of the alumni capital campaign. “Central, the most diverse school in the country, offers to every child in Philadelphia, the opportunity to get the best college preparatory education in the city.”

Central developed a master plan with input from students, teachers, alumni and other interested parties, said Timothy McKenna, the school’s president, as Central’s principals are known. The upgrades will “provide our students with world-class facilities to learn, grow and share their gifts,” McKenna said.

Central is believed to be the second oldest public school in the country. It has operated continuously since 1836 and moved to its current location in 1939. It is the city’s second-largest high school, with 2,300 students.

Camera icon Courtesy of the Associated Alumni of Central High School A rendering of a planned expansion to Central High School. Here, the improved campus is shown in context of the neighborhood.

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