On Friday, following a meeting with parents DCPS issued a letter announcing that the planned construction of a new wing of Hyde-Addison school would be delayed for a year. This delay comes following four months of uncertainty after the DC Department of General Services determined that the school could not remain open at its current location during construction. While several options were discussed, for whatever reason (GM will get to that again below) DGS decided that no adequate “swing space” could be identified in time for the next academic year and decided therefore to delay the construction at least one academic year.
In the same letter, DCPS proposed Meyer school as a swing space starting in 2017 for two years. Meyer is a former elementary school located in Pleasant Plains at Euclid and 11th. Why DCPS didn’t just propose to use the building starting this fall is because it is currently occupied by the Duke Ellington School for the Arts while that school undergoes massive construction (more on that below too).
This announcement was not well received. For those that have been working very hard for years to get the construction started, the new delay is heartbreaking. It continues a long string of broken promises from DGS for a project that was originally planned to be started over four years ago.
For others, the delay is actually a bit of a relief. Up until last December DGS assured the community that the construction could take place without displacing the students. Then they changed their minds. Rather than come up with a solution quickly, they dithered and left everyone in the dark. This naturally led to a great deal of anxiety as families tried to plan for the next school year. Some demanded a delay in order to not rush the decision. So for them, the delay is a minor relief.
But nobody is excited about the Meyer option. It is halfway across town. Many fear that if the city insists on it, neighborhood families will give up on Hyde (at least for two years) and the school will be back to square one in terms of attracting the families its meant to serve. Perhaps that’s overdramatic, but it’s what happened when Hardy was relocated for renovations and that school is only recently beginning to attract local families in numbers.
There is little transparency as to why DGS did not move forward with the preferred plan to build a temporary school on the Duke Ellington field at 37th and R St. It certainly did not help that a letter-writing campaign started by the president of the Burleith Citizens Association objected to the plan. This was an especially galling action from GM’s perspective. The field is owned by DCPS. This would be a DCPS function for the property. The fact that Burleith residents like to walk their dogs on the field is immaterial. What is material is the fact that Georgetown stood by Burleith during the campus plan negotiations with Georgetown University, despite the fact that Burleith is much more impacted by the student population. Now when it came time for Burleith to stand with Georgetown to help improve the school that they themselves will soon attend, they resorted to a Nimby campaign to keep out elementary school kids. (Of course, this would not be the first time Burleith showed open animosity towards Hyde.)
Georgetown University also objected to the Ellington field plan since they also use the field. That GU has built up its campus in a way that required it to rely on outside resources for athletic facilities is another fact that should not matter when DCPS is considering how to use a DCPS-owned property.
Some suspect that what it really comes down to is money. Using Meyer would cost DCPS far less than constructing a temporary school (it would also keep the otherwise vacant school from being taken over by a charter school). And saving money on construction is something DCPS is very much interested in so long as the project isn’t the Duke Ellington School. In fact, many point to that money pit as the primary cause of Hyde’s problems. With the magnet high school’s price tag approaching a quarter billion dollars there’s not a lot of oxygen or money left over for other projects. (That’s a school, mind you, whose student body allegedly is 16% non-DC residents).
At this point, barring a miracle, a delay seems certain for Hyde. This will at least provide certainty to families trying to plan for next year. But GM (who is on the School Improvement Team, although he does not speak for it here) does not accept Meyer as the decision for the swing space. If we are to have another year, let us use it to figure out much better options. Whether it’s the Duke Ellington field or the field next to the Francis pool at 24th and N (an idea GM had), we must have local options. GM plans to enroll his daughter at Hyde for kindergarten the fall of 2017, and so this is a personal issue for him and he won’t rest until it is solved.
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