Georgetown Current

Hyde-Addison Project Faces Delay Until 2017

March 23, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Students at Hyde-Addison Elementary School might move to the Meyer Elementary campus near Howard University during two years of construction at their Georgetown school, according to project officials.

Officials also announced that the long-delayed Hyde-Addison project’s start date will be pushed off once more — from this coming summer to June 2017.

Plans to expand the overcrowded Hyde-Addison have been in the works for the past five years, aiming to provide the 3219 O St. NW school 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.

The latest issue emerged in December, when project officials backed off from a pledge that students could remain on campus during construction, deciding instead that swing space would be necessary to keep students safe and the project on schedule.

D.C. Public Schools studied three sites including Ellington Field in Burleith and Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown for the feasibility of welcoming the Hyde-Addison student body for two school years beginning this fall. None of those options panned out, according to D.C. Public Schools chief operating officer Nathaniel Beers.

As a result, the school system has delayed the project start date until June 2017, when Hyde-Addison students can move into the Meyer campus, 2501 11th St. NW, for the two subsequent academic years. Meyer is currently serving as swing space for Duke Ellington School of the Arts during renovation of its campus, located just north of Georgetown in Burleith.

“The Meyer building will allow the use of an existing DCPS facility equipped with infrastructure, classrooms, administrative and support spaces,” Beers wrote in a letter to parents on March 11. “The building will be able to provide spaces for the entire Hyde-Addison program.”

Since that announcement, the Hyde-Addison School Improvement Team has sent several letters to city officials with objections to the plans. The team is calling for the long-delayed repairs to start this summer, speeding up the project timeline so that the swing space relocation would take place for only one year. They’ve also requested details about multiple swing space options for comparison purposes, and are expressing concerns about the viability of the Meyer option if the Ellington project isn’t finished in time.

“It is unacceptable to delay our construction and spring an unknown swing location upon our school and families without adequate and timely information,” the school improvement team’s March 21 letter reads.

Beers told The Current that he can’t commit to reducing the swing space duration from two years to one, but said the school system and the Department of General Services are looking at ways to minimize that time.

“We will continue to work with DGS and the construction partners to make sure that we are analyzing the length of time that is needed for this project,” Beers said. “We all have the desire to get the kids back into a fully modernized space as soon as possible.”

In terms of the schedule, Beers said some interior repairs at Hyde-Addison will take place this summer, but work on the pipe and new addition can’t proceed until swing space is secured.

The school system is collecting comments on the proposed Meyer swing space through Friday, and plans to share that feedback with the community next month. The final decision on the swing space will come in May, according to Beers.

Beers described the Meyer campus as “the best option that we currently have,” but added that “if community members have other options that we need to explore, we certainly can explore those other options.”

Meanwhile, enrollment deadlines for next fall have left parents like Georgetown resident Kyle Yost unsure where to place his kids for the coming school year. Yost last year considered sending his daughter to a private or out-of-boundary school, but opted for pre-kindergarten at Hyde-Addison after hearing that its one-year renovation would start in 2016, with students remaining on campus.

Now Yost has to think about whether Hyde-Addison is suitable for the long term.

“There’s no appeal to having my kids spend an hour a day getting bused across the city,” Yost said. While he said he’ll keep his daughter at Hyde-Addison next year, he’s sending his 3-year-old soon to a private preschool in the fall while also contemplating a future move to the suburbs.

Yost said he believes the current facilities at Hyde-Addison aren’t adequate for his children and others.

“There’s no common space, there’s no gym, there’s no cafeteria,” Yost said. “When she’s in after-care, especially when the weather’s bad, I would say it’s not fine.” His daughter often comes home with minor injuries on her elbows and knees because the most accessible playground facility is an asphalt blacktop, he said.

The subpar facilities continue to motivate school improvement team members like John Lever to demand expedited construction on the new building. Lever believes city agencies haven’t been transparent with the group, and doesn’t sympathize with their view that no feasible swing space options will be available for the coming school year.

“DCPS and DGS have done this behind closed doors without any regard to what it does to the community that we’ve been building for years,” Lever said. “We deserve a world-class elementary school just like every other part of the city, and we don’t need to be ignored right now.”

Yost and Lever separately expressed confusion about the decision to pass over the Ellington Field as a potential swing space location, given that many Hyde parents believe it to be the most desirable.

Burleith Citizens Association president Eric Langenbacher said several concerns about the Ellington Field option emerged when his group distributed a survey to Burleith and Hillandale residents. Respondents worried about the impacts of ongoing construction at the Ellington School and nearby MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, among other issues.

Langenbacher also noted that Hyde-Addison’s presence at the Ellington Field would disrupt operations of various other schools and organizations that already use the field for different purposes.

But Langenbacher stressed that the Burleith community supports Hyde-Addison and its modernization process.

“The people of Burleith are looking forward to joining the Hyde community once the modernization is complete,” Langenbacher said. “The people of Burleith would love to look for another appropriate option.”

Beers told The Current that using the field would disrupt traffic flow, and that the field’s layout wouldn’t easily accommodate trailers or adequate parking.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Jeffrey Jones said he wants to see the school system commit to completing some of the most urgent repairs this summer. Otherwise, he told The Current, the Hyde-Addison community as it currently exists could be threatened.

Beers said the school system is keeping close tabs on the Ellington renovation, now scheduled to wrap up in June 2017, and believes his team will have enough time to change course if that project hits unexpected roadblocks.

School improvement team member Christine Churchill also said that transparency continues to be a major issue. Parents haven’t met with school system officials since the March 11 announcement, and Churchill thinks that needs to happen soon.

“We have sent so many emails, so many letters, phone calls, trying to get someone in a position where they can actually have a back-and-forth conversation with us and some kind of troubleshooting, and they haven’t done that yet,” Churchill said.

Beers said a meeting with parents and the Hyde-Addison principal is planned after next week’s spring break.

“We certainly don’t want families to feel like they need to leave DCPS, and [we] want to continue to work together to make sure that they understand the huge commitment to making the space right at Hyde-Addison,” Beers said. “We understand that the community has lived with inadequate space. We are committed to finishing that project. I would hope that people would see we’re still making that commitment.”

This article appears in the March 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Bangkok Joe’s Will Return to Washington Harbour Spot

March 16, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

After more than a decade in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour, Bangkok Joe’s shut down with little fanfare in 2014. The owners of the Thai restaurant, Aulie Bunyarataphan and her husband Mel Oursinsiri, believed their clientele wanted something new. So they opened Mama Rouge, a Southeast Asian bistro with modern offerings, in the same space.

A year went by, and the couple realized they were wrong: Their customers still wanted Bangkok Joe’s. As a result, the Thai restaurant is poised to reopen at 3000 K St. NW. The opening date, previously set for March 31, has not been confirmed, according to the owners.

“We want people to know that we heard them. That’s why we’re bringing it back,” Bunyarataphan said. “It’s not just that we wanted to bring it back. It’s the customer — that’s the main thing.”

The dark wood design of the original Bangkok Joe’s is gone, but the classic menu items and culinary techniques have been restored. The menu will feature a familiar blend of dumplings, buns, wontons, rolls, small plates, soups, noodle bowls and rice bowls, as well as Not Your Ordinary Joe’s, a menu of “elevated entree specialties.” The centerpiece of it all is the Dumpling Bar, a returning favorite that will offer an expanded range of delicacies.

When Bangkok Joe’s first opened in 2003, the restaurant’s prominently featured Dumpling Bar — positioned in a spot formerly occupied by a bank teller line — was the first of its kind in D.C.

“I just fell in love with the space,” Bunyarataphan said. “The first time I saw the space, I was like, this is it. It’s pretty unusual.”

The Georgetown community wasn’t quite ready for Bangkok Joe’s when it first opened, Bunyarataphan now realizes. For a few years, the restaurant wasn’t turning a profit. Eventually, tastes changed and word spread, with customers from D.C. and beyond jumping on board. One person asked to buy dumplings all the way from Texas, and another from California requested a sauce delivery, Bunyarataphan recalls.

But after 12 years, the owners felt ready for a change, and they thought the customers would be, too. When the new Mama Rouge concept opened in place of Bangkok Joe’s, the couple found their customers frequently requesting the old menu items, Bunyarataphan said.

“I didn’t realize that people really love and us miss us. There was nothing I could do at that point,” she said.

The appeal of Bangkok Joe’s lies in the homegrown nature of its offerings, according to its owner. Bunyarataphan said her cooking is inspired by her experiences growing up in Thailand, as well as her time working at a now-defunct Thai restaurant in Glover Park in the 1990s.

Bunyarataphan spent a lot of time working in restaurants after she moved to the United States to pursue her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information systems. Eventually, she realized she wanted to stick with restaurant work, aspiring for a behind-the-scenes role as a chef.

Bunyarataphan also plays this role in two other restaurants she owns and operates in Arlington: T.H.A.I. in Shirlington and Tom Yum District. Her husband Oursinsiri manages the front end of their establishments.

“He’s good with the customer,” Bunyarataphan said. “I’m not.”

Bunyarataphan says today’s diners seem to fully embrace all the varied and spicy flavors of Thai food, in a way that wasn’t true when Bangkok Joe’s first opened. Customers are more likely than they had been to try a menu item even without knowing what’s in it, she said.

“I see a lot out there that people are more adventurous about ingredients. They’re more accepting about Thai, they have more knowledge about the food, and they’re more willing to try new things,” Bunyarataphan said. “Whatever we put on the menu, they will love it.”

This article appears in the March 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Parents at Hyde-Addison Call for Details on Project

March 9, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

With summer break and fall enrollment deadlines looming, parents in the Hyde-Addison Elementary School community are calling for more information about the status of their modernization project and swing space options, though they remain divided on the best path forward.

Following several postponements, D.C. Public Schools will host a community meeting with updates at 9 a.m. Friday at Hyde-Addison, 3210 O St. NW.

Several parents told The Current they’re willing to hear the city out if it means seeing the long-awaited renovation move forward. Others said they’re prepared to move their students out of their neighborhood school because they simply don’t know enough about the city’s plans for Hyde-Addison in the near future. A few parents even want to see the project delayed, given the small amount of planning time between now and the start of construction.

Renovation plans have been in the works for Hyde-Addison for five years, with construction on a new addition and playground area and the relocation of a 4-foot sewer and drain pipe originally set to begin this month. But in December, D.C. Public Schools and the Department of General Services announced that construction would be delayed until this June because the students would have to be relocated for up to two full school years. The agencies had previously told the community that relocation would not be necessary.

More than 120 parents have sent letters to various city officials urging an assured construction start date in June, an “optimal” swing space location such as Ellington Field, and a promise to avoid last-minute design cuts or changes, according to parent and Hyde School Improvement Team member Christine Churchill.

In a written statement to The Current, Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans said he has urged city officials to cement their plans for Hyde-Addison and inform the community promptly.

“I’ve spoken with the Mayor and Chancellor multiple times to advocate for modernizing Hyde-Addison and developing a plan that keeps our children safe and provides the least disruption to the education of our students,” Evans’ statement reads. “I expect that we will all have greater clarity at that time.”

Hyde-Addison parent and school improvement team member John Lever told The Current he’s frustrated that the city hasn’t communicated with parents at all since the December announcement.

On the swing space options, community discussions have circulated around two locations — Ellington Field in Burleith or Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown — but the city hasn’t confirmed or denied those two possibilities either way.

Lever, who previously opposed relocating the students during construction, now thinks that it will be necessary to do so given the amount and duration of major construction work that needs to happen on the campus. The outcome of the project justifies the inconvenience, he said.

“There are going to be kids who have gone through the entirety of Hyde with the prospect of having a gym and never getting one,” he said. “We’ve got to do this. D.C. has the money now. They may not have it tomorrow.”

Currently, Hyde students can’t have physical education classes from November until March because the only play area is outside, according to Churchill. Students also have to spend 45 minutes to an hour each week traveling off-site for arts and music classes because the current building doesn’t have a room for an arts facility, she said. “Anyone requesting a delay is telling the city that it’s not OK to invest in our children,” Churchill said.

Lever thinks the existing building isn’t a suitable option due to safety concerns — especially with 25 to 75 additional students from Burleith joining Hyde in the fall due to school boundary changes, and the school’s waitlist teeming with hundreds of students.

“If a kid falls, they fall onto asphalt. It’s not an appropriate surface for anything,” Lever said. “No one would accept that for a school if it were built now. The physical space is atrocious compared to any other school.”

Not everyone thinks the project is urgent enough to warrant relocation of students, though. Parent Nora Cameron worries that there won’t be enough time to address questions and concerns from the information presented at this Friday’s meeting, and thinks parents shouldn’t be forced into making last-minute decisions. “Over the next six weeks, it’s really crucial that we get confirmed, valid information,” Cameron said.

Steve Barentzen, who has a second-grader and a fourth-grader at Hyde, thinks some in the community have made too much of the project’s urgency. Each time the school improvement team urges the community to send pre-written letters to city officials, Barentzen writes his own, asking for the project to be delayed.

He said he moved to Georgetown with the intention of sending his children to the neighborhood school. Any swing space location away from Georgetown would be unacceptable for him, and he’s strongly considering moving his children elsewhere if the current proposals for construction and relocation move forward.

“Everyone agrees that there’s no plan in place, much less a good plan that has been vetted and discussed in the community,” Barentzen said. “There’s no reason to blow forward this quickly.”

D.C. Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Lerner told The Current that the community will be kept abreast of all developments “in the coming weeks and at Friday’s SIT meeting.”

“DCPS is working with DGS and the Mayor to ensure that the Hyde-Addison community has a tailored building to ensure a successful education for all students, as well as a working swing space during the construction period,” Lerner wrote in a statement.

Jeffrey Jones, who serves on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), told The Current that getting clear information is the biggest priority.

“The families have been left in the dark too long by an exhausting and unclear process,” Jones wrote in an email. “Add to this the confusion of the modernization project, perpetual changes and delays, and now possible budget cutbacks are only adding to the angst being experienced by too many.”

Jones said he has received the parents’ petition as well as emails with wildly varying views.

“I will continue to believe the future is very bright for this school,” he wrote, “as long as the District leadership is willing to recognize it is Hyde-Addison’s turn for some real results by following through on their promises.”

This article appears in the March 9 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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