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Marie Reed School Modernization Progress Hits Major Snag; Community Taken Aback to Learn One of Two Options Now Scrapped Due to Funding Cuts

Accompanying images can be viewed in the July 2015 issue pdf

By Anthony L. Harvey

The July 8, 2015 monthly meeting of the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) attracted a standing room audience drawn by the announced consideration by the ANC of several contentious neighborhood issues. The first of these was the ongoing planning for the modernization of the Marie Reed Learning Center, the neighborhood’s innovative community facility which comprises an ambitious public elementary school, an array of recreational facilities — including a gymnasium, swimming pools, a small recreation center, and outdoor playgrounds — and social services encompassing a Community of Hope health center, a locally accessible location for provision of the Washington Hospital Center’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a separate United Planning Organization daycare facility, and space for performances and meetings.

This planning effort has occasioned a successful series of well-attended community meetings about the on-going activities of the entire Marie Reed Learning Center and focused forums on the elementary school’s educational program led by the ANC and the principal and staff of the school. These sessions began last fall and have continued through the spring of 2015, culminating in a June presentation to a packed audience by the Quinn Evans project architects of two alternative proposals for the entire facility’s modernization — the first, dubbed Option A, a proposal for the adaptive re-use of the entire existing physical plant and facility and the second, dubbed Option B, entailing the tear-down of half the existing building and the rehabilitation of the remaining half.

The funds available in the District’s Department of General Services (DGS) construction budget for this effort, as approved by the DC Council in the fiscal year 2016 capital construction budget, is $62 million, an amount previously envisioned by DGS and Quinn Evans to cover either of these two options. Suddenly last week, DGS and the architects informed the ANC that Option B was now estimated to cost $100 million and thus was off the table. This announcement stunned both the ANC and the DCPS School Improvement Team for the project, both of which had been previously informed that a tear down and rebuilding of the entire Marie Reed plant and facility, an option not presented to the community by Quinn Evans at the June community-wide meeting, would cost $64 million.

There were thus no two options to be considered by the ANC, and the presence of the community to add their voices to the debate was for naught. ANC Chair Billy Simpson expressed his extreme displeasure: “I am outraged at this,” he announced, adding that the ANC and many community members had closely examined both options and were eager to discuss merits in both modernization approaches.

Jon Marc Buffa, who chairs the ANC’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee, weighed in with the observation that he was “shocked that the architects were 50 percent wrong on the estimated costs for Option B [and that thus] Option B was no option at all, a false option since it was not feasible.”

ANC Commissioner Alan Gambrel characterized DGS and the architects using an estimated cost figure of $450 a square foot for Option B as “outrageous.”

Community members with experience and knowledge concerning DC school construction and renovation costs offered the recent highly regarded, relatively recent reconstruction of Takoma Elementary School — like Marie Reed an open plan school — as an example that cost between $185 and $195 a square-foot. Denis James, President of the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA), asserted that “everything DGS touches is a train wreck.”

The Quinn Evans architects are continuing to “flesh out the remaining Option A proposal,” said ANC Chair Simpson, who urged community members to continue responding through the “survey monkey” questionnaire on the Marie Reed modernization proposals which is accessible on the ANC website, and to write and lobby Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who is very supportive of the Marie Reed project, and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the Council’s transportation and environment committee which has in its mandate responsibility for DGS oversight.

Editor’s Note: We initially reported on this modernization project in the late spring. See, “Marie Reed School Modernization Addressed in Fully Detailed Community and ANC-1C Vision Statement Sent to DC Agencies, Architects,” May 2015 issue pdf, page 1.