Georgetown Current

Parents Blast Latest Tweaks to Hyde-Addison Project

October 12, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Hyde-Addison Elementary students will relocate to the Meyer Elementary School campus in Shaw for two school years beginning next fall, D.C. Public Schools Interim Chancellor John Davis confirmed to parents in a letter Friday, despite recent hopes that they could use swing space closer to Georgetown.

In a separate decision — also controversial — D.C.’s Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles told members of the School Improvement Team last Wednesday that the city also could cut back on portions of Hyde-Addison’s $25 million renovation project, which has been in the works for several years.

In particular, the revised design would combine the cafeteria and gym spaces and enlarge an administrative suite, moving it from its current location along O Street to the new addition that would connect Hyde-Addison’s two buildings at the center of the campus.

Members of the School Improvement Team balked at the design changes when they first saw them last week.

“The current design is the product of thousands of hours of design work — research, discussion, visiting other renovated schools, interviewing other school’s staff — shared by DCPS, DGS, our SIT and the architects,” School Improvement Team member Christine Churchill wrote in an email to The Current. “To change the approved design for something inferior is wrong for children and wasteful of public dollars.”

Plans to expand the overcrowded Hyde-Addison have been in the works for the past five years, aiming to provide the Georgetown school at 3219 O St. NW with more classroom space, a gymnasium, a cafeteria and other amenities. But the project has faced numerous delays related to budget allocations, historic preservation concerns and the need to excavate a large sewer pipe.

Churchill worries that the loss of a full-time gymnasium space would impede students’ opportunities for physical activity and that the proposed placement of the cafeteria would force the students to eat lunch underground in a room with no natural light. She also said that she and her colleagues have opposed several revisions to the administrative suite in the past, and this proposed change goes against their prior recommendations.

Meanwhile, the swing space news contradicts previous indications from city officials that Hyde-Addison students would relocate to nearby Hardy Middle during the planned construction project, rather than the Meyer Elementary building near Howard University.

Many parents in the Hyde-Addison community had been pushing for the school system to consider Hardy and the Ellington Field as possible alternatives to Meyer, which some say is too far from a significant portion of the school’s families and presents other logistical challenges. Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans told The Current in September that members of his staff had heard from the mayor’s office that the school would relocate to Hardy during the renovation.

According to Evans, the mayor had made the decision to swing to Hardy, but then Niles provided reasons why the relocation wouldn’t be possible. A reconsideration led to last week’s update with the Meyer announcement, Evans said.

Niles all but confirmed the Meyer selection at last Wednesday’s School Improvement Team meeting, and the formal letter two days later proved conclusive.

“Given the numerous delays in the modernization of Hyde-Addison over the years and the desire to have Hyde students benefit from their new building as soon as possible, the best decision is to stay on track with the modernization rather than delay the project yet again,” Schools Chancellor Davis wrote.

Davis cited Meyer’s more than 25 classrooms, multipurpose room with a stage, full cooking kitchen and outdoor space as existing resources that will help ease the transition. The school system plans to work with the Department of General Services over the next year to enlarge classrooms, install a new playground, upgrade restrooms and apply new paint throughout the building at 2501 11th St. NW, which closed in 2008 and is currently in use as swing space for students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts during that school’s renovation.

Evans stressed that he has no power to change or influence the swing space decision now that it’s been made. But he said he thinks Hardy would have made more sense for Hyde-Addison’s local population. As for the proposed cuts to the renovation, he hopes the school system will reconsider.

“I don’t support any cuts being made to the project. I think that’s a terrible idea,” Evans said. “It’s already cut back as much as it should be.”

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Niles told parents that Hardy and Ellington Field had been taken off the table as possible swing space locations, but declined to indicate why. She said  discussions of both could not be reopened. School system officials didn’t respond to interview requests for this article.

Despite Hyde-Addison parents’ enthusiasm, the idea of using Hardy drew some concern from that school’s community. Hardy’s Parent Teacher Organization co-presidents Neil Hare and Abi Paulsen told The Current last week that they were never consulted about the possibility. They were concerned that an influx of new students on their own crowded facilities would deter parents and students from coming to the school in future years, on top of inconveniencing current families.

“From a logistics standpoint, it’s not impossible but certainly problematic for this project to go forward like that,” Hare said.

At last week’s meeting, Niles did bring up another option that the community hadn’t heard before: holding the Hyde-Addison project back an extra year, and taking over trailers at the University of District of Columbia currently occupied by Murch Elementary students waiting on their school’s renovation. Parents at the meeting rejected that proposal and complained that they hadn’t been given enough time to fully consider it.

“Someone thought it would be a good idea to spring another option on parents and attendees at this meeting,” School Improvement Team member Elissa Alben told The Current. “It was a very odd tactic.”

A Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting with presentations from city officials and the School Improvement Team is set for Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3240 O St. NW. Tours of Hyde-Addison will be offered as well.

This article appears in the Oct. 12 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Burleith Puts Off Landmark Request

October 6, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Burleith Citizens Association has put off consideration of applying for the neighborhood to become a historic district until the beginning of next year, according to president Eric Langenbacher.

The association began discussing the possibility of filing an application — which, if approved by the city, would control the demolition of homes and certain types of renovations in the community — earlier this year. Though the group had originally planned to discuss historic designation at multiple public meetings this fall and host a community vote in January, it announced last week that formal discussions will be on hold for at least a few months before the process resumes.

“This gives us more time to plan things correctly and involve more people,” Langenbacher said in an interview yesterday. “There are some folks that aren’t happy with the way things have gone so far. This gives us a chance to take everything under consideration.”

Association board members have gotten busy with other projects and want to make sure they have adequate time to conduct research into issues that concern the neighborhood, including the economic ramifications of historic designation, Langenbacher said.

“It’s more about information-gathering and listening to voices in the community before we make any kind of choices moving forward,” he said.

At its most recent meeting, the association invited state preservation officer David Maloney to discuss what restrictions would likely apply in Burleith.

“There are some things that would not be allowed if this were a historic district,” Maloney, who had recently participated in a walk-through of the neighborhood, said at the Sept. 14 meeting. “Most of them seemed OK, generally; many of them would have been approved clearly outright if the area were a historic district. Some of them, we would have tried to revise some of the aspects of the design.”

Burleith is a primarily residential area just north of Georgetown with blocks of 1920s row houses, some of which have been targeted for redevelopment into multifamily construction. City zoning rules include limits on height and density, but unlike in a historic district, projects aren’t subject to review of the planned architecture.

Maloney said the theoretical Burleith historic district would make it impossible to tear down a house in most cases, and would require an architectural review for additions and other alterations. However, unlike the federal protections found in Georgetown, the historic district for Burleith would wave through most applications as part of a simple building permit review without a full public hearing process.

A few projects, though, would likely be turned down, Maloney said; besides teardowns, major alterations to front facades of houses would likely be deemed incompatible with the historic district. That would include third-story additions that visibly stick out above the original facade, roof decks visible from the street and the removal of original porches.

But outside of those constraints, Maloney said, residents would still have free rein to change their homes. Notably, rear additions that don’t substantially alter the view from the street would likely be approved without fuss, despite some residents’ concerns about big modern structures visible in many neighborhood alleys. “On the back of the house, we don’t take any position on style,” Maloney said.

Several homeowners at the Sept. 14 meeting expressed concerns that a historic district would restrict key property rights and that reduced redevelopment potential would harm their property values. “In my view, the only way to make these family homes is to make bedrooms that are of a size that people want in 2016 — and the only way to accomplish that is to go up,” one woman said.

Lenore Rubino, a real estate agent and former president of the citizens association, said that in her own experience, historic districts appeal to buyers who appreciate that the house next door won’t be torn down or wildly altered. “They like to be able to know that this is what the community looks like,” she said.

If the association does ultimately support a Burleith historic district, the Historic Preservation Review Board would need to approve its application, based on the neighborhood’s historic merits and community support.

Staff writer Mark Lieberman contributed to this report.

This article appears in the Oct. 5 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Fillmore Program at Risk Again of Closure This Year

September 28, 2016

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

The D.C. Public Schools system plans to close the Fillmore Arts Center at the end of this school year, Chief of Schools John Davis said Monday night.

The arts program, housed at Hardy Middle School on Wisconsin Avenue NW, provides weekly instruction to about 1,700 students bussed in from Hyde-Addison, Key, Reed, Ross and Stoddert elementary schools. The school system originally intended to shut down the center last year, saying the city spends double the amount per pupil at Fillmore compared to other schools’ arts programs, but gave a one-year reprieve after community backlash.

That debate is now set to repeat itself. Parents of students who attend Fillmore continue to make the case for retaining the arts program, which they say provides superior instruction to what each of the schools could provide on their own for arts curriculum. Parents also note that some of their elementary schools are too tight on space to allow for in-house arts programs.

In phasing out Fillmore, the school system argues that the model is outdated in an age when the District mandates arts education at every school. Davis, who will become interim schools chancellor when Kaya Henderson ends her tenure at the end of the week, described it as an issue of equity.

Speaking to a group of parents Monday night at a meeting of the Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network, Davis said there will be “community engagement” in the coming months on the future of Fillmore and arts education at the five Northwest schools. Facing criticism from Fillmore teachers at the meeting for not visiting the arts program in person, he pledged to do so soon.

In a brief interview after the event, Davis suggested that the centralized model for Fillmore, which started in 1974, isn’t necessary now. “In the past, we didn’t have art, music, P.E. across the board” in schools, he said. “Now, we actually do. I think we’re in a much better place than when Fillmore was needed.”

D.C. Public Schools lists Fillmore as a “highlight” of its arts education offerings on its website. Students are bused once a week to the arts center, participating in dance, music, theater, and visual and digital arts instruction.

To fund Fillmore, the five schools divert their arts instruction funding and the school system adds $600,000, for an operating budget of roughly $1.6 million. Last spring, D.C. Public Schools wrote to the community that the city spends $1,149 per student to operate Fillmore; in comparison, $458 is spent per student across all elementary schools “to support art and music instruction.”

John Claud, chair of Friends of Fillmore and a Stoddert parent, takes issue with the school system’s equity argument. Claud said in March that the city chose a costlier bus service option that increased the price tag of running the program.

“There’s no appreciation for how great Fillmore is,” he said in an interview.

At Monday’s meeting, he pressed Davis on the reasoning to close Fillmore, but Davis reiterated, “I don’t have any other issue besides equity.”

Now that the D.C. Public Schools has guaranteed arts programming for each elementary school, Davis said, “you have to ask the question, Do we still need to have [Fillmore] or not?”

Meanwhile, Ruth Wattenberg, the Ward 3 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, countered that in-house arts programs at schools don’t necessarily function as well as D.C. Public Schools thinks.

“I’ve been in many places around the city, and the arts program that’s supposed to be everywhere isn’t actually great at all,” Wattenberg told Davis. “And I think it’s really sad that we’re going to lose this [Fillmore] model.”

This article appears in the Sept. 28 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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