Georgetown Current

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In phasing out Fillmore, the school system argues that the model is outdated in an age when the District mandates arts education at every school.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.

Click here to share your thoughts.

Proposed Tweak to Flight Path Wins Few Fans

September 22, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed tweaks to flight paths over Northwest D.C. have not impressed affected residents, who say the changes are too minor to significantly improve an unpleasant situation in their riverside communities.

The FAA discussed its “LAZIR B” route plan in an open-house meeting last Wednesday at the Georgetown Library, where officials showed a new flight path that crosses over the edge of Rosslyn rather than passing directly over southern Foxhall Village. Farther northwest, the proposal also shifts the flight path over the Potomac River instead of flying over the Virginia side of the river.

Officials said the new route was chosen by a working group with representatives of the FAA, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and affected communities on both sides of the Potomac. But residents in several Northwest D.C. neighborhoods have been seeking more drastic relief: a return to the relative quiet they’d enjoyed before spring 2015, when today’s flight path went into effect.

“This sounds to me like a big sham, where you say you listened to the community and then you do whatever the heck you want,” one resident angrily told an FAA official Wednesday. Two of his neighbors agreed, referring to the plans as “garbage” and “BS.”

Communities from the Palisades to Foggy Bottom have complained extensively about the recent increased disruptions from planes serving Reagan National Airport. One FAA official said today’s flight path had emerged in response to complaints from McLean, Va. — those residents and their congressional representatives successfully lobbied for planes to be routed closer to the District. She also said improved technological precision keeps more planes flying exactly the same path, meaning that residents who are most affected by one plane will likely hear numerous others passing in the same spot.

Residents have railed against FAA conclusions that there was “no significant impact” on their communities from last year’s change, and say they weren’t given adequate notice it was coming. The issue has been compounded by Reagan National’s growing popularity and, in particular, its increase in late-night and early-morning flights.

The FAA defines a “significant impact” as an increase in average noise throughout the day by 1.5 decibels if the average noise is already 65 decibels, or the change would increase noise by at least 1.5 decibels to reach or exceed 65. An FAA official said at the meeting that such volumes are typically experienced only in areas directly adjacent to busy airports. 

Although the FAA process is required to solicit and consider community feedback, officials said agency regulations focus on the specific decibel levels despite the opinions of affected residents.

Ed Solomon, a Burleith advisory neighborhood commissioner and chair of the DC Fair Skies Coalition, said he’d had low expectations for the meeting.

“We’re concerned the changes the FAA wants to make will not have any significant impact on the noise we’re experiencing,” he said. “We looked at this as more of a show-and-tell exercise.”

The Fair Skies Coalition is still petitioning for review of last year’s flight path change in federal court, and representatives of the group also meet regularly with other stakeholders, Solomon said.

Visit to read documents from the FAA and submit online comments.

This article appears in the Sept. 21 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

1 Comment   Click here to share your thoughts.

GU Hospital Project Wins Concept Nod

September 14, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A proposed addition and other changes at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital recently won conceptual approval from the Old Georgetown Board, and broad community support points to a smooth path forward for the plans.

The hospital aims to construct a new five-story, 477,000-square-foot “medical and surgical pavilion” building that will attach to the eastern side of the existing 1940s hospital at 3800 Reservoir Road NW. Amenities will include 156 private patient rooms, a new emergency department with direct access from a rooftop helipad, and larger operating rooms.

The new construction will replace the surface parking lot now between the hospital and St. Mary’s Hall, the Georgetown University building that houses its School of Nursing and Health Studies. An underground garage will replace that capacity, as well as that of another existing parking lot between St. Mary’s and Reservoir Road.

The resulting open space at ground level as well as the site now occupied by the vacant Kober-Cogan Building will become green areas that promise more inviting access, either from the neighborhood or from the rest of the university campus.

Plans for the hospital and associated traffic impacts had been refined through the Georgetown Community Partnership, a collaboration between stakeholders from the university and the nearby neighborhoods focusing in part on planning and development issues. The general idea behind the hospital’s goal — to expand and modernize its facility, while adding more green space — won support early on.

“MedStar has made, in my view, a very strong case that this is needed,” Ron Lewis, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), said last fall. “It’s really in need of renovation.”

But until recently, a key sticking point remained: Residents were unhappy with the proposed location of the entrance to the new underground garage. In the middle of a new lawn, they argued, it would harm aesthetics while creating too many pedestrian-vehicular conflicts.

The latest version minimizes that issue by locating the garage entrance close to Reservoir Road. Drivers will access the property using a driveway just west of 38th Street, turn around in a new roundabout, and then turn right into the garage. Meanwhile, the hospital located a prominent pedestrian entrance just beyond the garage, and pedestrians will follow a diagonal sidewalk to the building.

In a unanimous resolution Aug. 29, ANC 2E endorsed the garage change.

“This location maximizes the opportunity for a green, attractive and student-friendly northern entrance to the campus; offers an inviting, long, green view into the space between the St. Mary’s building and the new medical/surgical pavilion of the hospital; and clearly offers the best traffic-flow and signalization efficiency along Reservoir Road,” the resolution states.

The Old Georgetown Board — a panel under the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that evaluates projects’ compatibility with the neighborhood’s federal historic district — accepted the plan as well, while also granting conceptual approval to the new pavilion building.

Board members had previously requested design tweaks that would break up the length of the building, but concluded at their Sept. 1 meeting that they preferred a simpler past iteration, according to Tom Luebke, secretary to the Fine Arts Commission.

The hospital will also require design approval by the full arts commission, as well as Zoning Commission approval within the Georgetown University campus plan. ANC 2E and other community stakeholders have unanimously endorsed that plan, which was also developed through the Georgetown Community Partnership. It’s on track to be approved in late 2016 or early 2017, and the hospital’s estimated three to four years of construction would begin after that point.

Hospital spokesperson Marianne Worley told The Current that officials are “thrilled” with the Old Georgetown Board’s approval, and thanked community stakeholders involved in the design process.

“On behalf of the patients who will benefit from this pavilion, which also includes emergency care, we appreciate the collaboration and support among our neighbors and the OGB to help us bring this much needed, state-of-the-art facility to fruition,” Worley wrote in an email.

This article appears in the Sept. 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.