When Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School opened in 2012, it started in an abandoned elementary school at 5218 N. Broad St., with more than 100 incoming freshmen.
On Tuesday, a groundbreaking ceremony is being held as plans progress to transform a former tricycle factory into the latest site for the school. The new facility will stand at 1717 W. Allegheny Ave. in the city's Tioga neighborhood and is expected to open in early 2019.
"This campus represents a permanent home for the school," said John McConnell, the founder and president of Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School. "It will be a top-quality campus that supports a top-quality education. Now we are strong enough to build our own campus."
Cristo Rey, which means Christ the King in Spanish, is an independent, Catholic, college-preparatory school for students of all faiths and who have limited financial resources. The annual education cost is about $12,000 for each student, with the majority of funding raised through student participation in work study jobs and from benefactors.
McConnell said construction has already begun at the lot at Allegheny Avenue and 17th Street. The nearly $40 million for the building transformation was raised through corporate and individual donations as well as through other means.
"Business leaders and philanthropists in the city are eager to help educate the youth in our city because their businesses depend on them," McConnell said about contributing factors that helped raise money for the project.
The new building will be equipped with dining facilities, science labs, a gymnasium, an athletic field and an outdoor space, among other things.
With an enrollment of 490 students, Principal Michael Gomez says the move provides an opportunity for future expansion. The new site will accommodate more room for science labs and the engineering program along with providing more parking spaces compared to the current location.
"I think my faculty and staff work extraordinarily hard and teach and serve with a tremendous sense or urgency for our students," Gomez said. "They do it out of a great love for each one of them. However, the building sometimes itself poses challenges. It's actually built for a grade school."
Councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose district incorporates the Tioga area, held a community meeting in August with residents to inform them of contracting and construction employment opportunities. Parents and guardians were also given information about school's enrollment process.
"We're excited about the new Cristo Rey school and happy that their relocation is within the 8th District," \Bass said in an email to The Philadelphia Tribune. "Their model of providing education is proven and works."
For Verna Brown-Tyner, who has lived in Tioga for the past 47 years, the new school brings a bright spot to her community.
"Tioga hasn't had a school built there in over 100 years," said Brown-Tyner, president of the nonprofit Tioga United. "I do believe Cristo Rey offers an amazing concept for our youth to get a quality education. Tioga has suffered from some blight for some years.
"We want to rebuild our community and this is starting point," she added. "Good schools bring good families; good families bring better blocks; and better blocks bring better development. It's a domino effect in my view for the future."
Cristo Rey, part of a network of 32 similarly named schools nationwide, had its first graduating class in 2016, with 100 percent of the seniors being accepted into a college.