Mayor Vincent Gray has been holding public meetings this month to discuss his FY 2014 budget. The Ward 3 town hall meeting will held on Tuesday, April 30th at Deal Middle School from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Deal is a beneficiary of his budget, with $18 million for restoring the Reno School, as is one of Forest Hills’ two grade schools: Hearst Elementary. This article, from the April 3rd issue of The Northwest Current, has more details.
By Elizabeth Wiener
Current staff writer
Ending months of uncertainty over the modernization of two of Ward 3’s most overcrowded schools, Mayor Vincent Gray has decided to fully fund expansion projects at Mann and Hearst elementaries in the coming fiscal year.
The funding is part of Gray’s fiscal 2014 capital budget announced [March 28th], which also envisions overhauls to recreation centers, libraries, fire stations and other schools in Northwest over the next few years.
The extra $13.5 million proposed for adding two wings to Hearst will provide more classrooms, a cafeteria, kitchen, music room and arts space at the North Cleveland Park school. Hearst currently has about 300 pre-K-through-fifth-grade students using a 1932 building built for 180, with no common space and demountable classrooms strewn about the property. (Read more about the modernization and expansion plans for Hearst.)
At Mann, Gray is proposing to spend $22 million on two large additions containing a cafeteria, gymnasium and classroom space. The current capacity of the old brick schoolhouse is 213, yet it now houses 300 children and expects to add perhaps another 100 when the work is complete. A highly rated “blue ribbon school,” Mann is now forced to hold some classes in trailers and hallways, with what leaders say is the smallest physical space per student of any school in the city.
Part of the ambitious school modernization effort under way citywide, both projects had been mired in doubt. Neighbors opposed initial designs for the two projects, and Gray’s approved capital budget for the current fiscal year contained only about $10 million for work on each of the existing school buildings — with timing and funding for added space still to be determined.
But school leaders, parents and Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh pushed hard for full funding. They argued that overcrowded buildings hindered learning and couldn’t offer modern facilities — labs, physical education and performing arts space — that current education specifications require. Proponents also said stretching out construction over several years would only add to the disruption.
Until [late March], Gray aides said the mayor was committed to both projects, but was still trying to identify the needed funds. Thursday [March 28th], after the budget announcement, mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro emailed The Current, saying “the budget fully funds Hearst and Mann modernizations! We committed to it, and today we delivered.”
Cheh last December chastised the mayor for “breaking his promise” to the two school communities. On Thursday, she issued a statement applauding Gray for fully funding the two “long overdue modernization projects” at Hearst and Mann, as well as investing in other school, library and recreation projects in the ward and citywide.
School leaders were also pleased, though uncertain about the timing and final details of the construction work. “We are very excited, and grateful for the involvement of city leaders,” said David Dickinson, copresident of Hearst’s PTA. “We’ll continue to work with the architect to refine the plans. We’re hoping to get a shovel in the ground as quickly as possible.”
Dickinson noted that current students in the early grades at Hearst, which draws children from all over the city, will be using the modernized and expanded facilities if the work goes quickly.
Gray’s new budget proposal for the next five fiscal years includes funding for dozens of other capital projects in Northwest D.C., often with work phased over several years.
Funds for school renovations and modernizations, continuing the ambitious program which began in 2006, include:
■ $81.5 million for Duke Ellington School of the Arts in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
■ $127 million to “fully renovate” Roosevelt High in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
■ $103 million for Coolidge High, starting in fiscal 2017.
■ $18 million to restore the historic Reno School and connect it, with classroom additions, to Deal Middle. The fiscal 2014 funding was increased to accommodate “strong enrollment projections” at Deal.
Reprinted with permission from The Current Newspapers. To read more about the mayor’s budget, including improvements to schools, libraries, rec centers and more, download the April 3rd edition of the Northwest Current by clicking here.