Amidon-Bowen Opens New Doors
While children were enjoying their summer break, crews worked seven days a week to complete a $5 million renovation at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, the only elementary school in Southwest. Gone are the red walls and window air conditioning units. In their place is a more modern-looking school for a neighborhood that is rapidly changing.
Change can be found almost everywhere around Amidon-Bowen. Across 4th Street, SW from the school is the largest condominium conversion project currently selling in the city, with only a handful of units available for sale. A couple blocks to the east, a new playground is planned next to the Southwest neighborhood library, which will soon receive a multi-million dollar renovation. To the west, the shuttered campus building of Southeastern University may soon have a new owner and could potentially be redeveloped as residential housing. Further west, Jefferson Middle School is in the middle of a three-year plan to transform into Jefferson Academy, an International Baccalaureate Middle School Program. South of Amidon-Bowen is Waterfront Station, where more than 500 residential units are currently under construction and 4th Street, SW serves as the retail spine of the neighborhood. Arena Stage is beginning its third season in its expanded campus two blocks from Amidon-Bowen. In addition, The Wharf, a $2 billion development along the Southwest Waterfront, will begin construction next year bringing over a thousand new residents, some of which will be families with children.
Renovations at Amidon-Bowen include a new ADA-compliant entrance, a new administrative office suite, a new walk-through from the front to the play area, a new air conditioning system, and re-sized classrooms with technology upgrades and moveable walls. Additional improvements such as a water feature near the front entrance were not included as a cost savings measure. Despite the removal of the water feature from the plans, a maritime theme now permeates throughout the school, where creatures found in the Chesapeake Bay such as barracudas and turtles serve as “mascots” for each grade level pairing along with a new color scheme including blue, green, purple, and orange.
Shortly after the completion of interior renovations, work on some exterior sections will begin. PTA President Martin Welles is optimistic about the pace in which changes are coming to Amidon-Bowen. “We are planning to get the playgrounds installed by Halloween and new windows by early next year,” said Welles. Funding is already in place for the play areas, which will cost $500,000; however, the $1 million needed for installing new windows has yet to be secured. Improvements to the play areas will include two playgrounds, a turf football/soccer field, and a couple of running lanes. The fence near the front of the property will be pushed closer to I Street, SW to make room for a playground for older children. A second playground for younger children will be placed in the back of the property and will be separated from Amidon Field by a controlled-access fence. Currently, there is a playground located closer to the school building, but the positions of the new playgrounds will help reduce noise into the classrooms. The site of the current playground will be replaced by a grassy area. Welles would like to incorporate the “mascots” and color scheme inside the school to the new playgrounds to help tie the spaces together. The football/soccer field will replace the basketball court that is currently on site – the court will be rebuilt this fall at Lansburgh Park where a neglected tennis court now stands. Next to the turf field will be two running lanes. All of these areas will be open to the public outside of normal school hours. In addition to play areas, a greenhouse is planned for an area next to the playground reserved for younger children. A greenhouse will be able to grow herbs and flowers in the winter time whereas the majority of the growing season for the raised garden beds currently in place occurs when school is not in session.
Other recent improvements to Amidon-Bowen include an upgrade to the school’s library last year, courtesy of a grant from Target with new books, technology updates, new furniture, carpet, and shelves. Also, volunteers from Joel Osteen’s group made some landscape improvements outside of the school last spring when the televangelist held a spiritual event nearby at Nationals Park. Future unfunded phases of renovations, in addition to new windows, include improvements to the gymnasium and all-purpose room, as well as improvements to interior systems, such as the installation of an elevator.
Renovations alone will not turn Amidon-Bowen around, which is still suffering from declining attendance over the past few years and test scores among the lowest in the city. According to DC Public Schools, only 15% of students at Amidon-Bowen met or exceeded the Washington, DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) standards in math and 19% met, or exceeded standards in reading. As a result, the school was reconstituted before the 2011-12 school year in order to help improve performance. All faculty members had to reapply for their jobs and a new principal, Izabela Miller was hired. Advocacy from organizations such as the PTA are important, but with more than half of the students at the elementary school from out-of-bounds, which means they come from a different area of the city than the location of the school, it makes it difficult for parents to get involved due to the relatively long distance most of them are from Amidon-Bowen. Other local groups such as the Near Southeast/Southwest Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC) and the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly have also been working to bring positive change to the school.
Will Rich is a blogger at Southwest…The Little Quadrant that Could (www.southwestquadrant.blogspot.com).