Maury Has Good Options for Modernization

Debate Focuses on Capacity and Timeline

Frustrations over a lack of vision for the modernizations of Ward 6’s public schools bubbled over after a meeting on Jan. 12 updating the status on projects at Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) and Jefferson Academy (801 Seventh St. SW). Jefferson’s renovation is straightforward. DC Public Schools (DCPS) has planned small fixes around the school as the building waits for construction to start in 2020. Those fixes include updated science labs, outside door replacement, and HVAC repair.

Maury is a feeder school for Eliot-Hine Middle School (1830 Constitution Ave. NE). Its renovation is scheduled to finish in August 2018. But Maury faces a significant sizing and capacity problem after DCPS failed to update enrollment estimates following unanticipated rapid growth in the surrounding neighborhood. At the meeting, DCPS and Department of General Services (DGS) representatives proposed four scenarios. Two would keep the construction dates on track; the third and fourth would expand the building’s capacity and push back the completion date. The fourth option would also require demolishing millions worth of already completed renovations and increase the budget by about $15 million.

Growth of Enrollment Not Foreseen

Enrollment estimates at Maury were off the mark in the planning process for modernization, so the capacity projections are not compatible with the estimated future enrollment, said Ward 6 State Board of Education representative Joe Weedon. Enrollment projections increased to 513 in 2020, more than the building’s current capacity of 457 students, DCPS spokesperson Janae Hinson said. This increase, while it shows positive support from the community, requires amendments to the modernization plan set to start in late summer 2017.

Option One: Cluster Model

The first approach is to create a cluster between Maury and Miner Elementary (601 15th St. NE). The in-bounds families would be in a combined boundary area, and the buildings would split by grade, Maury taking the upper grades, Miner the lower of the preK-3 to fifth-grade levels.

While this solves the capacity problem and keeps the construction timeline on track, DCPS’s representative did warn that it would significantly impact the programming at each site and logistics for families.

Option Two: New Boundaries

DCPS offered to redraw the boundaries set in 2014 to shrink the area the school serves. Current students would remain in school, but it would alter future enrollment. This plan doesn’t change the timeline or budget for the current project, but it leaves no room for future growth at Maury and disrupts families with siblings who may not be able to attend the same school.

Option Three: Expanding the Current Building

One idea would increase the enrollment capacity to 539 by building out several parts of the existing 1886 and 1961 structures. This would include a larger kitchen, a small two-story addition for classrooms, a three-story addition to the multipurpose room for classrooms and a lobby, and new playgrounds on the west side of the addition. It would remain on the same budget and timeline. DCPS warned that the final project would eliminate play space, wouldn’t meet certain educational specifications, and still has a large number of students in a limited space.

Option Four: Demolishing One Building, Expanding

The other suggestion demolishes the 1961 building; puts up a new three-story addition with appropriate classroom sizes and office space; adds a one-story addition for the media center, adds a one-and-a-half-story building for the cafeteria, kitchen, and stage, and reassigns the parking lot.

The drawback: it would push the project completion date back to August 2019. It would also require approval from the DC Council and the mayor to add roughly $15 million to Maury’s current $18.5 million capital improvement plan (CIP) budget.

What the Parents Want

Most parents and staff at Maury want a school that is the right size and includes the current boundaries, according to a DCPS survey sent out to parents and staff. Complications in the process have frustrated many, but they want the project done right.

Reducing the boundary area doesn’t seem fair to families, the budget isn’t guaranteed through the CIP process, and expanded capacity would also impact the school’s current operations, said Max Kieba, a school improvement team (SIT) coordinator and Maury parent. “We talked about clustering with Miner or shrinking the boundaries back from the extension, but we didn’t want that,” he said

Instead, they are interested in the most radical plan, option four. Kieba admitted it poses a challenge for swinging out of the school for two years to a temporary location or even moving two times in two years, but they want a school that fits the community’s growing needs.

Maury Principal Carolyn Albert-Garvey agrees and wants people to understand that a potential increase in the budget is not a request for money on the current plan; it’s to address the number of new local families. “If there is a way for us to do a two-year renovation and get a building that fits our needs, that would be wonderful,” she said, adding that increased enrollment is a good problem to have.

But Weedon questions the tear-down of the 1961 building in option four. The city has already spent money renovating parts of that building, and an increase in money for one school could potentially take away funds from another school that lacks basic needs like HVAC systems that work and windows that open. “I'd like to see a bigger-picture view of how the investment in Maury supports a vision that creates a sustainable system of schools from early education to graduation for the entire neighborhood, puts more students in a position to achieve, and closes the achievement gap,” Weedon said.

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