Jefferson Community Wants a Modernization Sooner

Short-Term Fixes Help, But the School Needs an Overhaul

Renderings of science lab updates for Jefferson Academy. (Photo: DCPS)

Current and future parents of students at Jefferson Academy (801 Seventh St. SW) launched a petition Jan. 23 calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to start the Jefferson modernization planning in 2018 and construction in 2019.

Parents at Tyler Elementary (1001 G St. SE), Van Ness Elementary (1100 Fifth St. SE), Amidon-Bowen Elementary  (401 I St. SW) and Brent Elementary (301 North Carolina Ave. SE) joined in the petition's launch on (to read about the petition or sign, visit the site and search for "Jefferson Academy). After DC Public School (DCPS) officials updated the community on the modernization plans Jan. 12, parents said they were glad DCPS opened the conversation, but they still want the City to move up and finish the renovation sooner than 2022. 

"The delay in modernization means that renovation would likely start when the school has almost doubled in size from where it was a few years ago," the petition states on "Quite potentially will be no longer be able to accommodate a renovation without requiring significant swing space at another campus."

DCPS has pushed back Jefferson’s renovation for more than a decade, and with the exploding development at the nearby waterfront, the urgency to get the school updated has again rocketed up, said Amidon-Bowen Elementary parent and community leader Marty Welles. 

“There’s billions of dollars being invested all around Jefferson,” Welles said. “As the traffic patterns change, as the status of the school has increased, a modernization is needed.”

Updates Planned Before the Modernization

DCPS has planned for about $1.3 million to fix and replace the current HVAC system situation in the school’s gym and auditorium. That includes ordering a new system, removing parts of the existing ceiling and walls for installation, installing rooftop units, installing fans and more. Construction workers will start in late January and should finish sometime in July 2017.

Workers will also replace the exterior door to the school, which after permits and designs go through appropriate channels, should be installed by the end of September 2017.

Finally, DCPS plans to build two new science labs and a staff prep room with a new HVAC system, wiring for experiments, plumbing and sink appliances for projects and some lab equipment. Construction will start after school closes in June 2017 and DCPS projects a completion by December 2017.

What the Parents Want

Jefferson families and community members like the short-term updates, but are ready for talks with DCPS on the full modernization. 

“There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Welles said. “I think the community has a sense of urgency, but I don’t think that transfers over to the City Council’s office, the Mayor’s Office, the Chancellor’s office.”

He argued that the longer DCPS waits on Jefferson, the larger the enrollment with the incoming residents in Southwest. More students make it harder to swing out of the school to a temporary location for construction.

It all boils down to a larger issue about vision for the modernization process, though, said Ward 6 State Board of Education representative Joe Weedon. He has yet to see a comprehensive plan on how expanding the enrollment capacity of the elementary schools and middle schools will fit together, especially when all of those numbers hit Eastern High School (1700 East Capitol St.).

“Eliot-Hine and Jefferson are being renovated to serve 500 or more kids, yet each school serves a fraction of that number now,” Weedon said. “And if they reach their enrollment targets, what does that mean for Eastern?”

Welles knows these meetings with DCPS and current plans likely won’t affect his own children. But he wants the children there now and those that were denied renovations for the last decade to get a chance. “The children deserve better.”

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