PHILADELPHIA -- Who knew a school cafeteria could be so much fun?
A space where hundreds of Philadelphia charter school students have been eating their lunches during mundane weekdays has been doubling in its off-hours as nightclub, offering dancing and drinking despite an expired liquor license.
City and school officials are not happy about the arrangement between Club Damani and the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, which serves about 450 children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said in a letter to Harambee on Monday that "a school and a nightclub cannot coexist in the same space and (the arrangement) must cease immediately," according to a school district statement.
As a charter school, Harambee receives about $3.5 million annually in public funds but operates independently of the district. Officials at Harambee, which is on spring break this week, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
A statement on the school's Web site said recent media reports contain "slanderous and inaccurate allegations."
"This attack on Harambee Charter School is a biased depiction of the true success story that Harambee truly is," it said.
Officers with the state Bureau of Liquor Enforcement visited Club Damani on Saturday, a day after WPVI-TV first aired a report on the building's double-life. The segment included footage of liquor bottles and a YouTube video promoting the club in which a man refers to marijuana use.
No alcohol was being served when authorities arrived, bureau Sgt. William La Torre said Tuesday. However, club officials told officers that alcohol had been served in the past and that they thought their license was current, La Torre said.
Club officials denied any drug use on the premises and said the YouTube video was part of a standup comedy routine, La Torre said. Still, officers urged them to be cautious about their clientele, he said.
"Basically, we said we need you to do what's right for the kids," La Torre said.
Liquor licenses can be denied to establishments within 300 feet of a school. In this case, the school moved into a building that already was licensed, state Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Francesca Chapman said Tuesday.
Harambee's facility in West Philadelphia was once an Italian-American social club that had held a liquor license since 1936, Chapman said. The club transferred the license to the school-affiliated Harambee Institute in 2002, but Chapman said it expired in 2008.
Neighbors also are upset about the situation, said city Controller Alan Butkovitz. He said he has received complaints about discarded drug packaging and liquor bottles near the club.
Butkovitz revealed Tuesday that Harambee is one of 13 charter schools under investigation by his office for questionable financial practices.
La Torre said the enforcement bureau last received a complaint – which was noise related – about Club Damani in January 2008, when it was still licensed to serve alcohol.
The club's phone number and Web site were not working Tuesday.
The city's Department of Licenses & Inspections cited the club in February for lacking three necessary business permits, said Maura Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. The club has until April 10 to comply or it will be shut down, she said.