In just eight months, we’ll be moving to our new home in Tioga. The new campus will have features we currently lack, such as a regulation-sized gym, parking lot, and classrooms and office spaces that fit our community comfortably. A great amount of hard-work, collaboration and dedication was put into making our new school the home that our students deserve. But how did we find this great space to build our new home?
When we decided to move, we established two essential criteria we were looking for in a new space: it had to be expandable – so we could build a permanent home and never have to move again – and it had to be safe walking distance from a Broad Street subway station.
The first step was to visit school buildings for sale by the Philadelphia School District, charter and private schools. Focusing on schools in North Philadelphia, we went to more than twenty buildings and worked with a real estate firm to help us. But, to our dismay, none of the locations fit the criteria.
What we needed was a dedicated person for the job. So, in the summer of 2014, we hired Chris Mullen, an intern from CBRE, to help us find potential new school locations. “It was one of my most memorable and favorite roles as a consultant to date,” says Chris. “I met with John to understand his vision and criteria for the school. And I also talked with students and faculty first-hand about what they wanted in a new school.”
Instead of continuing the “for sale” search online or via real estate agencies, we decided to take a more grounded, holistic approach: “I asked Chris to walk the city from Fern Rock to Spring Garden, four blocks on either side of Broad Street, and write down any buildings that fit our criteria, whether they were for sale or not,” notes John McConnell, Founder and President of Cristo Rey Philadelphia.
After a summer of countless site visits and many disappointments, Chris and John went to visit an old warehouse for sale on Allegheny Street. They were not expecting much and upon arrival, the warehouse looked in bad shape, most likely abandoned for years… but then something caught their attention. “On its own, the warehouse was not big enough, but next to it was a huge empty lot with weeds higher than your head!” says John. Making their way through the weeds, John and Chris searched for any information they could find until they came across a large piece of plywood, about the size of a desk, lying on the ground. Face up, the plywood was blank. But they turned it over and saw what they were hoping for – written in big letters was “For Sale” and a phone number!
Within a year, we bought the land and soon after, the building. “The combination of the warehouse and empty lot was spectacular,” says John. “And the real hero of the story was Chris Mullen.” With Chris’ help and a little luck, we found a location that was large enough to expand and just three blocks from the subway. We found our permanent home.