The Murch School modernization and construction project is scheduled to begin on the last day of school this June. Where students will report to school in August remains undecided.
The 630 Murch students will be displaced for two years due to the extensive nature of the first-ever renovation of Murch’s 80-year-old school building, plus the construction of a new building next to it. When it’s complete, Murch will be able to accommodate as many as 750 students, almost twice the capacity of the original building.
DCPS and DGS updated the Murch School Improvement Team (SIT) on Thursday, January 7th, but no decision has been made on the swing space. DCPS moved the decision date from January 12th to January 21st to allow more time to try to work out logistics at top-choice UDC and to evaluate the traffic analysis of all sites. DCPS is committed to carefully choosing the location to create a safe, temporary school that will be the least disruptive to the education of the students.
DCPS and DGS revised some of the costs and details of the four options that were presented at the last community meeting on December 17th, 2015:
- UDC: Create a new trailer school on the lot below the soccer fields at UDC ($6.5 million). Access to turf field for recess pending. Second largest square footage if field granted.
- On Site: Swing all 630 students on the part of Murch grounds not under construction, also using two of the three wings of the current building while the third wing is renovated ($2.5 million, or $5.3 million with two-story trailers). Access to Fort Reno land on 3700 block of Davenport (across Reno Road) for recess pending negotiations with National Park Service, including archeological survey. Smallest square footage unless park access granted.
- Forest Hills/Split: Swing part of the student body on site and part at Forest Hills playground in trailers (or all in double trailers at the Forest Hills location)($3.6 million for split school option; $7-8 million for double trailers). Second smallest square footage if split; smallest if full school.
- Lafayette Elementary: Reuse the current trailer facility at Lafayette after construction equipment is removed and Lafayette students move into their newly renovated school, if completed on time. Completion of Lafayette’s new playground spaces would be delayed. The 1,325 Lafayette and Murch students would share on-site DPR playground facilities ($4.7 million). Largest available square footage (even with double the population).
The agencies noted that each option has pros and cons, and they are working to mitigate as many of the problems as possible before making a decision.
“We know the uncertainty surrounding the swing location is frustrating. We are eager to make the decision too, but we owe it to the students, staff, families, and community to make the most informed decision possible,” said Patrick Davis, Director of Facility Planning and Design, Office of the Chief Operating Officer, DCPS, in a January 8th, 2016 email to the Murch community. However, the Forest Hills playground option was clearly the lowest priority due to combined factors of size, cost, and disruption to student education due to split school logistic, particularly for students in need of special services.
Traffic studies of the other three options are under way. Grove/Slade Associates’ transportation planners and engineers are using data gathered over the course of various construction projects. Their analysis was not completed in time for the SIT meeting. All options have varying degrees of traffic and parking concerns, as well as the need to create emergency egress plans. DCPS committed to provide bus services to mitigate traffic at the Lafayette and UDC locations, but noted that segments of the Murch population are within walking distance of each site. Plans for aftercare are also being evaluated for all locations in consultation with Murch administration, Murch’s nonprofit aftercare provider, and the Capitol Language Services school used by many Murch students.
Recess is also a factor that will have a large impact on the final decision. Both the UDC and Murch sites require approval from third parties in order for Murch students to have a location for recess. DCPS stated that even with the more expensive two-story trailers on site at Murch, the remaining space, which is in between the trailer classrooms and construction fence, is a smaller square-foot-per-student ratio than its own minimum standards allow. At the Lafayette site, the construction of Lafayette’s new playground would be delayed, and more students would be using the DPR playground and land. The principals of the schools have been working together to develop a safe recess schedule for the students under this scenario, should that option become the only one left.
At this point, both agencies and the Murch SIT appear to prefer the UDC site, but there are still too many logistics and authorizations to be worked out for a decision to be made by the previously promised date of January 12th. Davis wrote, “This decision impacts a number of departments within UDC and they are going through their internal review process. We believe this option has a lot of positive aspects and we will be re-engaging with them early next week to continue working through the details.” Accordingly, all other options remain on the table, and the questions and issues associated with each are still being explored and addressed.
More information on the proposals presented at the community meeting on December 17th are available on the DGS website.