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Neighborhood group requests renovations for aging school

Charlie Lee | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Charlie Lee | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: Sept. 21, 2015 at 9:35 p.m.

Neighborhood leaders passed a resolution last week urging the D.C. government to complete renovations for the School Without Walls at Francis Stevens.

The upgrades, which would be to the N Street school’s gymnasium and auditorium, would be the first renovations to the space in decades. Though preliminary steps, like picking an architect, have already taken place, city leaders have not yet allocated the money needed for full upgrades, commissioners said at the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday.

City officials have already allocated $2.5 million in funds “to plan a full modernization and to modernize some short-term priorities, such as its gymnasium and auditorium,” according to a memorandum distributed at the meeting.

That money also paid for blueprints, an architect and upgrades to the cafeteria and first-floor classrooms, Commissioner Rebecca Coder said at the meeting.

Overall renovations to the nearly 90-year-old school were put on hold this summer due to a lack of funding, according to an email from D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, which was printed and distributed at the meeting.

Florence Harmon, the commissioner who proposed the resolution, said the school’s auditorium “needs a lot of work.” She said the upgrades would be in the community’s best interest and cited a Washington Post article that said improving schools will bring more people to the neighborhood.

“A lot of my constituents are biting the bullet sending their kids there,” Harmon said. “They really need modern facilities.”

Commissioner William Kennedy Smith said neighbors and the group should lobby Mayor Muriel Bowser to allocate more money to upgrades.

“I don’t think there’s any more funding planned for several years. So there’s a significant amount of time in between planning and the actual execution,” Smith said during the meeting.

The ANC has historically been a strong supporter of the school and helped save it from closure several years ago. The school was named a satellite campus to the School Without Walls, a G Street magnet school, in 2013. Since then, students have used Francis Stevens’ auditorium, gymnasium and athletic fields.

Commissioner and alumnus Patrick Kennedy said everyone on the commission was on board with Smith’s suggestion to keep lobbying the city and the commission will “reiterate our request and continue reiterating until we get what we want.”

The ANC’s newest commissioner, sophomore Eve Zhurbinskiy, said she hopes that the renovations are funded as soon as possible.

“If you start renovating in October then it’s going to continue throughout the school year and will be very disruptive,” Zhurbinskiy said.

Zhurbinskiy said the Dupont Circle ANC is also supportive of the idea. The group shares responsibility for the area surrounding the School Without Walls at Francis Stevens.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Eve Zhurbinskiy said the ANC is pursuing alternate funding for the renovations. She also did not say that the Dupont Circle ANC would fund the renovations. We regret this error.

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