The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Will one old school become a new school?

The historic Harrison Elementary school building, at 13th and V Streets, NW, will likely soon continue it's educational mission by hosting one of DC's burgeoning charter schools. If it does, it will buck a trend of DC awarding old school buildings to many organizations except charter schools.

Photo from DRES.

DC's Department of Real Estate Services will begin reviewing applications on October 8 from charter school operators who want to become the next tenant. This request for offers (RFO) is open only to charter schools.

This property is on two major bus routes (90's and 50's) and near the busy U Street Metro station on the Yellow and Green Lines. The original building was constructed in 1890, making it one of the oldest structures in the historic district.

The ANC member who represents the district for this area described to me how she attended Harrison Elementary School as a child and later sent her own children there, but in the mid-1990s, with declining enrollment, DCPS closed the school. They began renting the building on very favorable terms to the Children's Studio School, a school chartered by the old Board of Education.

This past summer, the Studio School, itself struggling to enroll even 80 students per year in a building that takes up the better part of a city block, voluntarily relinquished its charter, making it ineligible to continue its lease.

DC has had a string of historic school buildings that, for one reason or another, have not been awarded to charter schools that applied or hoped to apply, despite the law on the books that charters have the right of first offer on these properties.

Grimke Elementary on Vermont Ave. near U St. NW was supposed to be repurposed from its current "temporary" use as housing for city fire and EMS offices, but the city kept the offices there when two charter schools applied, later awarding it to a revered museum that had long sought the building.

Gales School at 65 Mass Ave. NW and Franklin School on 13th at K Sts. NW were being used as homeless shelters until they were closed in recent years. They are all likely headed for uses other than K-12 public education, with Central Union Mission vying for Gale School and the UDC law school rumored to be in line for Franklin.

M.M. Washington at 27 O St. NW is another of these buildings. This one will be developed for senior housing. Stevens Elementary on 21st St. NW was also closed by DCPS but it went to private developers for housing. Hine Junior High School at 335 8th St. SE, with somewhat less historic architecture, lies right near Eastern Market. I'm not sure if that site was ever offered to charters, but it was awarded to a private developer as well.

Based on the recent history, the "right of first offer" hasn't done much for the charter sector in DC. Does this mean charters will have to locate wherever private market rents or developments costs are low, such on the edges of the city away from transit?

That's not a great choice for schools that aspire to be citywide magnets. Let's hope the Harrison RFO gets a genuine review and in the future we can look forward to kids walking and taking transit instead of riding in buses and private cars to school or attending overcrowded temporary facilities in basements and trailers.

Full disclosure: My wife and I are co-founders and parents at one of the schools that has responded to the RFO. We also share a property line with the Harrison building, so we have a clear stake in the outcome.

Steven Glazerman is an economist who studies education policy and specializes in teacher labor markets. He has lived in the DC area off and on since 1987 and settled in the U Street neighborhood in 2001. He is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, but any of his views expressed here are his own and do not represent Mathematica. 


Add a comment »

Biased much?

by Alex on Oct 7, 2010 2:00 pm • linkreport

You could almost include J.F. Cook in your list. The charter component is less than a third of it's proposed reuse and was likely only included so the group could get first dibs on the building.

So far we've tried in vain to engage the city and group to listen to the residents, but to no avail. Good luck w/ your battle, you're going to need it.

by batesres on Oct 7, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Alex: Yes, biased. Hence the disclaimer.

@batesres: The post was getting long or else I would have added several other properties. Some of the additional properties have more nuanced stories. Thank you for your comment.

by Steven Glazerman on Oct 7, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

Heh, the school that used to be in there was rather odd... it was fun to look at the drawings & writings in the classrooms -- I recall one in particular where they seemed to have spent a class discussing Saddam Hussein, resulting in some very very disturbing things (though entertaining for those with a dark sense of humor!) for young children to be writing & posting on the walls.

Now I just hope we're able to get some of the other non-school groups that had been using the classrooms back in there... it's been a bit bothersome as they all suddenly had to seek alternative places to host their gatherings; and considering the low price of the school vs. high cost of other sites near Metro stations, major bus lines, and easy walking distance for many -- that's a tricky endeavor.

by Bossi on Oct 7, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

If it's not going to be a neighborhood public school, then why is it important that it be in such a desirable neighborhood, development-wise. Isn't the city better served by selling it to developers, and investing the profits in a school in a different location?

There's plenty of places in DC that are transit accessible and not some of the most valuable real estate in the city.

by jcm on Oct 7, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

When does the dynamics change where the city no longer 'need' charter schools? Appears to me that charter schools are essentially 'private' schools --- sure not necessarily for profit; but run by highly motivated/results-oriented individuals --- and the public system it appears languishes and/or exhibit some progress and then a next time doesn't appear to get any better. Sure would be nice to see a first rate public school education system --- as some surrounding jurisdictions have --- where children are simply prepared to realize their full potential.

by Lawson Wellington, Esq. on Oct 7, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

You miss the point when you dismiss Hine Jr. High as, "OK, not that historic."

Until DCPS abandoned it to developers in July 2007, the site had been school system property since the time when the Wallach School was built there at the height of the Civil War, designed by Eastern Market architect Adolf Cluss to attract children of all races and social classes to learn in an integrated school environment.

That's a hell of a history lesson lost!

And for those who say, "Get these valuable properties out of the hands of DCPS and charter schools and into the hands of developers who can make something happen," well, in the case of the Hine site, not so much....

by Trulee Pist on Oct 7, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

The Fenty administration - in particular the developer-owned entity known as the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development - have been blatantly violating the law for years when it comes to giving charter schools first dibs on surplus DC property. The fact that there were no repercussions for ignoring the law is pretty pathetic.

by Fritz on Oct 9, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

Hey, I attended this school in 60's around the time John Glen went into outerspace, I want to know who was the female dignitary who visited the school around that time, all I can remember is we had to make flags.Yet the colors were green, white and I believe orange, someone must remember the same incident, please e-mail me back as soon as you can remember out there.

by DYC on Aug 2, 2016 12:15 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

We are switching over to our new website. Commenting on the old site is now disabled. Thank you for your patience and pardon our dust!

Support Us