UPPER DARBY — Delaware County Community College and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have reached an agreement of sale for the college to buy the former Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School building in Drexel Hill.
The two parties announced the agreement Friday morning for an undisclosed sale price of the historic, century-old building. The college is looking to build a full-service campus with more than 40 classrooms and labs in the same vein as their Marple and Downingtown campuses.
“This is a great opportunity for the college to provide Delaware County residents with high quality, affordable education and training that is conveniently located, easily accessible and responsive to the needs of the community,” said Dr. L. Joy Gates Black, president of Delaware County Community College, in a joint press release with the archdiocese. “We are incredibly appreciative to our sponsoring school districts for supporting this endeavor.”
“As a former higher education professional and now a current high school president, I see this as a dream come true; the opportunities seem almost endless with this news for our community and, specifically, for our students,” wrote Bonner and Prendie President Dr. John E. Cooke to the school community Friday.
Reports of the college’s intentions to buy the property came out earlier this year. The college started circulating a resolution in the spring to its sponsoring school districts for their approval to acquire a $55 million bond to fund buying the building property, demolition of smaller buildings on the property and new building construction. The college has reportedly received the approval from a majority of school districts to go ahead with the bond procurement.
The sale price of the eight-acre portion of the 30-acre campus was not identified by archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin or by college spokesman Anthony Twyman.
The Prendergast school closed in 2012 when it merged with the boys of Monsignor Bonner Catholic High School on the same campus to form Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School. The building has barely been used since.
As part of the deal the front façade of the school will remain intact and will not be changed during the construction effort. President Cooke said no portion of the Bonner property will be touched, including the turf athletic field in front of both school buildings.
The school’s auditorium, chapel wing, gatehouse and convent are slated for demolition, which will provide needed parking for the campus and allow for a new back entrance to the school. The front entrance is looking to accommodate students who use public transportation.
Building up the Prendie site has reportedly been part of a plan to close the college’s Upper Darby campus, located down the street on Garrett Road, and the Southeast Center in Sharon Hill, two campuses college President Black said were at capacity and had limited options for students. Twyman has yet to confirm that despite multiple inquiries since February, but Cooke said in his community message Friday the college’s, “intent is to consolidate a number of its smaller locations into a state-of-the-art mini-campus right next to us.”
Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie released a statement Friday saying of five proposals the township has been presented with over the years, this was the first one he has put his support behind.
“The acquisition by DCCC was the only proposal I endorsed because of its educational focus and the college’s commitment to preserve the historic building,” said Micozzie. “Having access to a college campus here in Upper Darby will help to reduce barriers for township residents who are looking to earn their bachelors or associates degrees. We also have a number of high school students in Upper Darby who are in dual enrollment at DCCC and can spend as long as an hour each day commuting between their home and the college campus in Marple.
“This is going to make their lives much easier and allow them to focus more time on their studies.”
A key part of the project pitch to sponsoring schools districts over the summer was a heat map shown to school boards showing that a strong concentration of the college’s 23,000 students are centered in the Upper Darby area.
Twyman could not be reached for comment to see about the next steps for the college with the Prendie project. A June presentation to the Haverford Board of School directors floated a tentative opening in January 2022.
A college will be the latest venture in the building’s history. It opened as an orphanage in 1920 before opening as a high school in 1953. Prendie and Bonner were both slated for closure by the archdiocese in 2012, but they were spared and the schools merged and were housed in the Bonner building. The merged school will continue in its present location.
Later that year the school building was featured in the Oscar-winning film “Silver Linings Playbook.”