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Marie Reed Learning Center Modernization Major Project Now Starting; Adams Morgan ANC Announces Series of Community Meetings

Accompanying images can be viewed in the January 2015 issue PDF

By: Anthony L. Harvey

In a long-awaited announcement of the first step by the District government in the development of a modernization plan for the updating of the almost 40-year-old Marie Reed Learning Center in Adams Morgan, the Department of General Services (DGS), which is responsible for all capital improvement projects in DC other than public libraries, unveiled rudimentary drawings for alternative redevelopment proposals for the Marie Reed modernization based on a feasibility study conducted by DGS during 2014.

Presented to a well-attended public meeting held in the Marie Reed auditorium in mid-November of 2014, the study focused on alternatives based on rough understandings of what might be available in funding from the capital budgets of agencies and contractors who presently share the building and its facilities, beginning with that of the Marie Reed public elementary school, for which almost $44 million is currently available from the DC Public Schools capital budget; at present this is the only firm commitment from a DC agency or program.

Community members were reportedly impressed that all three alternatives presented by DGS would protect the integrity of the Marie Reed campus, one that is presently occupied by several other agencies and programs in addition to the school. These include extensive programs of the Department of Parks and Recreation — a heavily used indoor swimming pool and an outdoor children’s wading pool, an indoor gymnasium, outdoor basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, and a new, state-of-the-art, soccer field, as well as publicly -supported services provided by the Community of Hope’s highly regarded Marie Reed Health Center and that of the United Planning Organization’s Head Start learning network for pre-K children. Marie Reed is also a cooperative host for providers of such other programs as ones focused on language instruction and adult education, and cooperative programs such as the one with the Fillmore Arts Center and the DC student soccer club leagues.

Two of the DGS alternatives would restore and preserve the exterior of the Marie Reed building’s unique modernist structure. Both of these first two alternatives would also redevelop the open classroom design of the school’s interior while one of these two alternative proposals would also redevelop the interior spaces of other agency-supported programs for which there were funds available for such work.

The third alternative would demolish the existing Marie Reed Learning Center structure and rebuild two new structures, one for the elementary school on the western part of the Marie Reed site between Champlain and 18th Streets, the other for the parks and recreation department and other occupants on the eastern side of the site between Champlain and Ontario Road.

The openness of the present Marie Reed structure and the presence under one roof of a multiplicity of community programs — and indeed the innovative open classroom concept itself — are a reflection of the idealism of the 1970s, one which heralded the opportunity to intimately involve the community in the development and operation of a host of community-focused education, health, sports, language instruction and life-long learning together with arts programs for all ages, with these activities conveniently, and comfortably, housed together in a purpose-built, modern, even futuristic styled building, one which would be located in the immediate neighborhood in a campus and park-like setting.

The forward-thinking nature of the founders and organizers of the Marie Reed Learning Center in the 1970s is reflected in today’s championing of such successful recent constructions of modern libraries, schools, and recreation centers co-located in the same, campus-like structures such as the new Northwest One project which combines a brand new Walter Jones elementary school with a new branch library and new parks and recreation facilities, and the District’s flagship new facility at Deanwood, which receives raves from the users of its new branch library, gymnasium, pool, seniors’ facilities, weight room, fitness center, and outdoor playing fields — and from those like this reporter who have visited the site and have also attended neighborhood gatherings in its spacious, community meeting rooms.

The above-mentioned new soccer field was financed by the United Arab Emirates with its English Premier League soccer team Manchester City providing soccer training to the Marie Reed Elementary School and advice and counsel to DGS in the District agency’s design and construction of the much admired new facility — including the handsome outdoor seating, landscaping, fencing, and lighting surrounding the soccer field. (See, “Big Step Forward for Fall Completion of New Adams Morgan Soccer Field Welcomed,” InTowner, June 2013 issue pdf at page 1.)

In email correspondence with The InTowner, Kenneth Diggs of DGS advised this reporter that the agency plans to select an architect in January 2015 to prepare concept drawings based on the renderings and data collected during the feasibility study. DGS’ tentative schedule, as announced on its website, looks to a construction start date for the selected modernization plan in the fall of 2015 with a completion date of August, 2017.

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Adams Morgan ANC Announces Community Meetings

In late December of 2014 Adams Morgan ANC Chair Billy Simpson posted the ANC’s schedule for the community and ANC’s consideration of the Marie Reed modernization plan being developed by DGS on the Adams Morgan listserve. It is quoted in its entirety below.

“The Department of General Services has updated us on their expected schedule for the Marie Reed modernization process. They intend to hire a new architecture firm by sometime in January, and then move forward with assessing the previous concept studies, producing further design options for the modernization, and selecting an option by mid-spring.

“In order for ANC1C to hope to impact some of the key decisions, ANC1C will need to vote out its recommendations for the project in April. We want to obtain robust community input between now and then, so our Committee on Public Services and the Environment will host five community meetings, and then the full ANC will hold a Special Forum. We’ll welcome comments on any aspect of the project at any of the meetings, however, we’ll endeavor to keep the following focus:

“Wednesday, January 28: The Committee will provide an overview of the project, solicit suggestions for topics that the ANC should address, and begin community discussion on the question of modernization within the existing building shell vs. modernization within new buildings on the property.

“Saturday, February 21: The Committee will continue community discussion on the question of modernization within the existing building shell vs. modernization within new buildings on the property.

“Wednesday, February 25: The Committee will begin community discussion on the question of which public services the community would like to see provided on the Marie Reed Campus.

“Saturday, March 21: The Committee will continue community discussion on the question of which public services the community would like to see provided on the Marie Reed Campus.

“Wednesday, March 25: The Committee will hold community discussion of any other topics of significance that have been recommended for consideration.

“Following this last Committee meeting, the Commission will post on its website and on the Adams Morgan Listserv proposed resolutions that individual Commissioners are likely to pursue in April. We’ll endeavor to do this by Sunday, March 29th. This will create an opportunity for members of the community to react to these proposed resolutions and provide feedback in advance of the Special Forum.

“Wednesday, April 8: The Commission will hold a Special Forum to receive final public comments and to deliberate and vote out its recommendations for the project.

“Please note that this schedule is subject to adjustment if the need arises. Times and locations for each meeting will be posted in advance. And of course, throughout this entire period, people should feel welcome to provide their views to Commissioners by email as well. We’ll look forward to hearing from you in the months ahead. In the meantime, to review the draft Educational Specifications prepared by DC Public Schools or the Design Concept Studies prepared by the Department of General Services, please visit ANC1C’s website [www.anc1c.org].”