Reopening Hardy School is not the Answer

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In this week’s Current newspaper, there is an op-ed by Ward 3 resident (and former DC Council candidate) Matt Frumin arguing for a complicated land swap deal involving the old Hardy School on Foxhall (not Hardy Middle School on Wisconsin), the Lab School–which occupies it–and the lower school of the Georgetown Day School.

GDS is planning on consolidating its lower school with its upper school in a new building on upper Wisconsin Ave. near Tennleytown. And the Lab School, which leases the Hardy School from DC, has been unable to obtain a longterm deal from the city and is consequentially unwilling to sink much money in the old building. Frumin sees this an an opportunity. He suggests that the Lab School should take over the old GDS space on MacArthur Blvd. and for the city to reopen an elementary school in the Hardy building.

GM has no idea what sort of package the city would have to put together to encourage this move, but GM is sure of one thing: it makes no sense to reopen the Hardy school as a new elementary school.

Frumin cites overcrowding at the Key School as justification for the creation of a new school. And he’s right, Key (located in the west Palisades) is overcrowded with 383 children attending a school with a capacity of 360. But if the children were split into two schools, there would only be 191 children per school. DCPS will not accept schools that small. Only two elementary schools in DC have fewer than 200 children, and if DCPS had its druthers, those would probably wouldn’t be open either. It was only because Georgetown’s Hyde-Addison grew its population substantially that it avoided closing years ago.

That’s because each school has a certain amount of fixed costs that can’t be scaled down for a small population. Whether it’s salaries for the principal or music teacher, etc., or just the cost of running the physical plant, it’s expensive to keep a school open and up to modern standards. Going through all that to only educate a single class per grade is not efficient. This is why the average capacity for elementary school buildings in DC is 430.

(And no, the space couldn’t just be filled in with more out-of-boundary children. The building only has a capacity of 200.)

And Frumin should know this because he served on the commission that was created to redraw the school boundaries last year. And he should also know that the commission came up with a way to relieve crowding at Key School: transfer children from Foxhall Village and east Palisades to Hyde. But the residents of the affected neighborhood didn’t want to switch to Hyde. They argued that they didn’t want to travel that far. (For the record, the distance from the Hardy building to Hyde is 1.5 miles. It’s 1.6 miles to Key.) They also argued that they didn’t want to deal with Georgetown traffic (surely no one from the Palisades drives to work through Georgetown…)

So the commission that Frumin sat on decided to pull back on the proposal and keep the Foxhall neighborhood in the Key boundary.

Yes, all things being equal it would be better for every child to live within a five minute walk from their school. But that only works when you’ve got a population density high enough to support a school within that catchment area. And the Palisades doesn’t have that, particularly given the number of families there that choose private schools instead.

So if Foxhall wants to have its own elementary school, it needs to have the density to justify it. And the best opportunity to do that would be to let the GDS campus be converted to residential. With that, and maybe more growth, then we could talk about expanding the old Hardy building to an acceptable capacity and reopening it as an elementary school.

And if overcrowding at Key is still a problem, either add capacity there or revisit the boundary issue.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Reopening Hardy School is not the Answer

  1. Seems like the effort to turn the old Glen Echo Streetcar right-of-way into a pedestrian path would mitigate the Georgetown traffic concern for Hyde, particularly for those in Foxhall Village. There’s nothing better than a morning and afternoon walk, scoot, or bike to school with your child.

  2. “And the best opportunity to do that would be to let the GDS campus be converted to residential. ”

    I live across the street from the Palisades GDS campus and I’ve been curious what will happen to it. I don’t agree with the above statement.
    If it does not remain a school, I’d rather see some type of retail only there.
    Having scouted the site, it has enough parking to compete with the Safeway (They both have a similar amount of Parking spots). In other words, I’d love for Moms supermarket to come there.
    That section of the Palisades is highest in density and it would make for a great walking destination to get groceries.
    The Safeway in the Palisades is poor and direct competition would be good for the neighborhood.
    As for traffic, if the school goes, putting in more houses is going to put more pressure on car traffic going to downtown in the morning.
    With retail, people will drive walk or even bike to the store at any hour of the day. And there would be enough parking to satisfy the location.
    As Kyle wrote above, GDS has the old Glen Echo trolley trail facing the Potomac river. This 5 mile corridor goes from Galena to Foxhall road and continues on through to the Georgetown University Campus.
    Whatever the community decides to go at the GDS campus, using the trail to get around in the Palisades can be a tremendous asset to the community and potential lessen traffic on Macarthur Blvd.

  3. kerlin4321

    Why not renovate the building to increas capacity to the minimum needed? Surely there is adequate space on the campus?

  4. Nick

    kerlin4321 has the answer.

    The old Hardy building is the same as the original building at Mann, Key and Stoddert. All four were built from the same plan at the same time. There is no reason why Hardy couldn’t be expanded in the same way. In fact, it is a much better candidate for expansion than Mann or, in particular, Key, because it sits on a large site — it’s over five acres, bigger than the campus of Ellington High School. As Matt Frumin said when I talked with him about it, “they put old Hardy there for a reason”: it’s at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, MacArthur Boulevard and Foxhall Road, and it’s on a crosstown bus line.

    I also think that GM does a disservice to Matt Frumin by trivializing his case. It’s not about reducing crowding at Key. It’s about creating more regional capacity. Every single school in Ward 3 is over-crowded. Key is bad, but nearby Mann is the most over-crowded school in DCPS. Stoddert is the only school in the DCPS system where in-boundary kids with a sibling already at the school are turned away for pre-K. All three of those schools were recently expanded; Stoddert and Key have added trailers in the parking lots since the expansion. Mann’s expansion didn’t add any seats, it just made permanent places for kids who had been in trailers for years. It’s doubtful that Key or Mann could add any more due to limitations of their sites.
    The next closest school is Janney. Janney has been expanded twice in the past five years and is still overcrowded! The first renovation finished in 2010 and cost $30 million, in 2013 the city spend another $4.8 million to add six classrooms. Think about that — $800,00 a classroom! That’s a huge amount of money. The reason it’s so expensive is that all of these sites are built out.

  5. Nick

    On the DME website is the 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan. Except where noted, all the information comes from there.

    For planning purposes, the city is divided into Clusters. The old Hardy School sits at the boundary of Cluster 13 and Cluster 14. Cluster 13 contains Key Elementary and Mann Elementary, and Cluster 14 contains Stoddert Elementary.

    As a group those three schools have a capacity of 910 and a 2012-13 enrollment of 1089 (1). Current enrollment is probably around 1170 (2) – 19% over capacity. The capacity number for Key assumes that the trailers that are there are permanent. (3)

    Together the three schools have 136,000 square feet, which comes to 116 square feet per student. DCPS average for elementary is 243 square feet/student and the design goal for renovations is 150. So by every measure they are overcrowded already.

    All three schools were at least 84% in-boundary in 2012-2013 (4).

    The plan shows projected forecasts of school-age population (5) by cluster for 2012, 2017 and 2022, from the Office of planning. The combined elementary school age population of Clusters 13 and 14 in 2022 is projected to rise to 3,483 from 2,205 in 2012. That’s an increase of 1,578 students, over 70%. City-wide, the Office of Planning is projecting 36,000 more elementary school students in 2022 than in 2012.

    The link is for the Master Facilities Plan is http://dc.gov/DC/DME/About+DME/News+Room/Press+Releases/2013+Public+Education+Master+Facilities+Plan . Appendix A has enrollment, gross square footage, and capacity for every public school in the city.

    Arguably, another elementary school is needed right now. What is not arguable is more schools will be needed in the next ten years.

    Notes:
    (1) Enrollment numbers for 2012-2013 come from the DCPS Profiles pages at http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/ .
    (2) David Catania’s website — http://www.davidcatania.com/conversations — has unaudited 2013-14 enrollment for Stoddert and Mann which are respectively 43 and 17 higher than 2012-13. If Key grew at the Ward 3 average of 5.9% this year it would have added 22 students.
    (3) The current plan shows Key’s capacity as 320, pre-trailer versions showed it as 287
    (4)From profiles
    (5)Figure 4.7 on page 55

  6. Nick

    The thing about the GDS is that it’s privately owned, they’re going to maximize their return. The lot is zoned residential and has a variance for a school. So it will either be a residential or stay a school.

    The site is slightly over five acres. As single-family detached housing, to create proper setbacks and frontage you’d probably get about four houses per acre or 20 houses. A buildable lot of that size in that neighborhood is about a million, so it’s $20 million as residential, less whatever it costs to subdivide it. I think it’s worth more as a school.

    If you look at what DCPS is currently paying to improve facilities nearby — $210 million for 500 students at Ellington, $800,000 per classroom to expand Janney, $20 million at Mann — $20 million to acquire a purpose-built school with athletic field is not out of scale.

  7. Topher

    Nick,
    I think you make a lot of good points. Here are my responses:

    -You isolate clusters 13 and 14, but ignore cluster 4, i.e. Georgetown. Kids are allowed to attend a school outside their ward. Why are you focused solely on Ward 3?

    I’m not sure why Glover Park’s overcrowding has anything to do with Palisades’ overcrowding. Yes, Stoddert is overcrowded. That’s why Burleith was moved to Hyde. Hopefully once that move becomes effective next year overcrowding at Stoddert will be eased.

    That’s why it also made sense to move Foxhall and east Palisades to Hyde, which has a lot more available capacity for in-boundary seats (particularly after the expansion is complete next year).

    Adding Hyde to the mix reduces the overall area capacity problem, but only if Foxhall residents will deign to attend Hyde.

    Ultimately another elementary school may be necessary for lower Ward 3. And maybe the Hardy building is a good candidate. That’s why I don’t think the city should sell the building or lease it to the Lab School for an excessive period. But for now, the better option is to revisit the boundary issue.

  8. Nick

    First, let me apologize, the link I gave earlier is dead, the correct link for the Master Facilities Plan is: http://dme.dc.gov/publication/dc-public-education-2013-master-facilities-plan . Population projections are on page 55, which is in Part 2.

    Cluster 4 is listed in the plan as having a current elementary school population of 959 and a projected 2022 population of 1931. That’s a growth of 101 percent, just shy of 1,000 students. So yeah, let’s add Cluster 4 in as well.

    How many trailers can the Hyde parking lot hold? Because they’re going to be needed soon.

  9. Topher

    There’s obviously a wide gulf between school age population and DCPS population. In Georgetown, one measure is 959 for the elementary school age population (although another chart lists it at only 614), but the Hyde population from Georgetown is a tiny fraction of that (~15%). So if that percentage held, by 2022 the in-boundary attendance would still be below the current capacity of the school, even before the renovations. There’s room at Hyde, and there will be for a while.

  10. Nick

    “There’s room at Hyde, and there will be for a while.”

    Except that by 2022 the elementary-school-age population of the city is projected by the Office of Planning to grow by 36,000 kids.

    One thing that this discussion highlights is that the relevant information is fragmented — the city generally gives information by ward, the Census Bureau gives it by census tract, the Office of Planning gives it by cluster, and schools are organized around attendance boundaries — and none of those things coincide. In fact, until the latest revision the boundaries of feeder schools didn’t coincide with the boundaries of fed schools. The reason I’ve highlighted Ward 3 is that the information I have access to is presented that way.

    What is clear about DCPS right now is there is a terrible mismatch between the schools they have and the schools people want. Overall, the system has far more capacity than it needs — about two thirds of the seats in the system are filled, or to put it another way the system has 50% more schools than it needs. Most DCPS schools take every out-of-boundary kid who applies, a significant number have no out-of-boundary kids who do apply. Yet there are about a dozen schools that are bursting at the seams, where DCPS has expanded as much as they can, have added trailers, and use every square inch of the school as classroom space (which means that “specials” such as art, library and music get eliminated because there’s no room for them.) Why doesn’t DCPS address this imbalance? Why didn’t the last round of boundary revisions address it — or much of anything?

    Because DCPS has no “market power.” DCPS can only pull, it can’t push. Except in the neighborhoods of the most desirable schools, DCPS long ago stopped being a neighborhood school system. About three quarters of the kids who attend pubilc school in DC do not attend their neighborhood school! DCPS cannot force kids to attend a school they don’t want to attend by moving boundaries, people will instead go out-of-boundary, charter, parochial or private, or simply move. While it may be tempting to say that some families need to “take their medicine” for the good of the system DCPS doesn’t have any ability to make that happen. And DCPS has learned that when it tries it just loses students.

    The way that DCPS needs to address that imbalance is by creating more schools that are attractive, not by forcing families into schools that are unattractive to them. So what does an attractive school look like? Being purely descriptive — not going into any of the sociological or historical reasons — families in DC prefer to attend neighborhood schools in affluent neighborhoods. The schools that are overcrowded — Janney, Key, Lafayette, Mann, Murch, Stoddert, Deal and Wilson — are all west of Rock Creek Park (and all but Lafayette are in Ward 3). As an even broader generalization, everyone in DC goes west to go to school. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the only kids who travel east to go to public school in DC are kids who do not have a public school to the west of them — i.e., kids who live along the western boundary of the city.

    A re-opened Hardy Elementary would be exactly the kind of school that families in DC want. For that matter, so would a new public school at the GDS site on MacArthur.

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