DC Prep Brings Life Back to Historic Anacostia School

Rendering of DC Prep's Anacostia Elementary Campus at 1409 V St. SE, which will open this fall. Image: DC Prep

The former Our Lady of Perpetual Help School at 1409 V St. SE, built more than a century ago as the parish school of nearby St. Teresa of Avila, will welcome its first class of students in a decade as DC Prep opens its new Anacostia Elementary Campus (AEC) this fall. The Archdiocese of Washington (ADW) closed the school in 2007 due to low enrollment. DC Prep acquired the 18,000 square-foot, three-story building from ADW and broke ground last October on a $24-million project that will include two new wings, adding 32,000 square feet of learning and community gathering spaces.

I recently toured the construction site with Raymond Weeden, DC Prep’s senior director of policy and community engagement and former principal of its Benning Elementary Campus, and Mark DeMoura, superintendent for MCN Build, the lead construction firm for the new school.

Strong Bones

“The bones of the building are strong,” DeMoura said upon stepping into the old school. “I would say we can keep 95 percent of the original building intact.” Upon closer consideration he offered an adjustment: “No, about 98 percent.” Looking up into the rafters of the former cafeteria and gymnasium, he remarked, “That’s the original rough-cut timber. More than a hundred years old and it won’t be going anywhere.”

Other than a small leak in the roof, there was little damage to the school over its 10 years of vacancy, but some materials did wander off. “All the copper piping, radiators, and fixtures were gone when we got here. Anything someone could get a penny for was gone.” New utilities for gas, water, electricity, and internet are being installed.

Throughout the school and its classrooms are wall paintings of cartoon characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Tweety Bird, and Casper the Ghost. Unfortunately they will be painted over to create wall space for instruction, and the original front doors on V Street with glass-formed crosses will not be kept. Old windows will also be replaced. “The limited demolition we’ve done is to create more open spaces,” DeMoura said, pointing to where the nurse’s suite and principal’s office are planned on the first floor.

Classroom dimensions will remain the same, chalkboards will be replaced by whiteboards. “There must have been carpet here at some time,” DeMoura noted, rubbing his boot over staples on a floor stripped down to its original wood. “We’ll put down tiling over this original floor and run new electric wiring.” DeMoura’s assistant explained that the new wings will have green roofs and be LEED Gold.

When the Historic Preservation Review Board reviewed the construction application in fall 2015, it wrote that “the idea of the school being flanked by large wings is compatible with the characteristics of the site and with the way many historic schools have been expanded in Washington.”

When completed, DC Prep’s Anacostia Elementary Campus will have a music room, science lab, art room, library, cafeteria, administrative offices, outdoor play space, and onsite staff parking. The gymnasium’s basketball court, planned for the east wing, will be open for use by the immediate neighborhood during after-school hours.

Campus Transition

DC Prep’s current Anacostia Elementary Campus, located in a series of modular classrooms at 1102 W St. SE, opened in the 2015-16 school year, serving preschool and Pre-K (three- and four-year-olds). It has added a class each year. In the upcoming 2017-18 school year the campus will serve preschool through first grade in the new building. At full capacity the school at 1409 V St. will serve 450 students from preschool through third grade.

Wendy Scott, DC Prep’s chief financial officer and head of real estate, remarked, “Having established a footprint in the neighborhood, it was important to have a permanent location, and we were very fortunate to acquire Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.” She continued, “This is a unique opportunity to revitalize the building but also preserve an historic landmark by restoring its original use.”

The close proximity of the permanent campus to its temporary home helps mitigate potential commuting hardships for students and parents. A kiss-and-ride system for dropoff in front of the school on V Street or on the 15th Street side is planned for the morning arrivals. Evening dismissal will be staggered, with elementary students leaving at 4:00 p.m. and after-school running until 6:00 p.m.

AEC Applications & Available Positions

DC Prep staff strongly encourages families to apply to the Anacostia Elementary Campus for their preschool-through-first-grade children. DC Prep participates in the citywide My School DC common application process. “We’re excited to expand our role in serving the Anacostia community, and look forward to showing our new building to families and community members during our open houses and hardhat tours during the spring and summer,” said Amber Walker, DC Prep’s director of marketing and communications.

DC Prep is a tuition-free, public charter school network with over 1,700 students in preschool through eighth grade across three elementary and two middle school campuses in Wards 5, 7, and 8. The mission is to prepare students for college preparatory high schools. DC Prep has been ranked as the top charter school network as measured by statewide assessment scores for the last five years. For more information on the Anacostia Elementary Campus visit www.dcprep.orgor call 202-635-4590.

Additionally, DC Prep is accepting teaching and staff applications for the 2017-18 school year for all campuses and the home office. Check the website’s careers section for information on posted positions and how to apply.

DC Prep’s contractor, MCN Build, works to connect qualified candidates with subcontractors who have a need. There is no guarantee that jobs are available at a specific construction site, however. For more information on the subcontractor hiring and review process contact Mika Hailstock at 202-656-6325 or macaajobs@gmail.com.

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