Dear Deputy Mayor Kihn,
I wanted to reach out to you in advance of our upcoming meeting on June 2nd to discuss the proposed new elementary school in Foxhall. As you know, for the past several years, I, along with a number of Ward 3 parents and education advocates, having been urging DCPS and the Mayor to take action to address overcrowding in the ward. Two years ago, your office convened a working group to identify solutions to over-enrollment. One solution proposed by that working group was the construction of a new elementary school in Ward 3. As such, I was very pleased to see the proposal for a new Foxhall Elementary School included in the FY 2021 budget, and want to thank you and the Mayor for identifying funds to make this new school possible.
That being said, I have a few concerns about the proposal as it has been presented to me. First, it is my understanding that the capital for this new school came from the funding for the additions for Key and Stoddert Elementary Schools; the budget for both additions has been zeroed out in the new Capital Improvements Plan. As you know, Key and Stoddert are significantly overcrowded, with each school relying on a complex of trailers to meet the need for classroom space. Although Foxhall Elementary is projected to draw students from the current catchment areas of both Key and Stoddert, reducing enrollment at both schools, the new school is not slated to come on-line until the 2026-27 school year. I am concerned that this new plan leaves both Key and Stoddert reliant on trailers for the foreseeable future. And I am not convinced that we need to choose between these additions and building a new school in Foxhall. At only $20.5 million apiece, I believe we can afford to add additions to both Key and Stoddert, as planned, and build the new elementary school. It is my intention to work with your office and the Education Committee to identify funding for all three projects in the FY 2021 CIP.
It is my understanding that your office projects that the new Foxhall Elementary will be able to accommodate approximately 500 students, which would significantly reduce overcrowding. I have also learned, however, that you plan to construct this new school on the Old Hardy School’s lot—but not to use the existing school facility. Instead, DCPS will construct a wholly new structure on the lot. It is unclear to me why we would pay to construct a new school when converting the existing Old Hardy School building would be significantly less expensive. As you know, the Old Hardy School is currently in use as a school, meaning the facility is unlikely to need significant renovation to be ready for DCPS. If using the Old Hardy building, the primary expense for this project would be the construction of an addition to accommodate the anticipated 500 students. Foxhall Elementary is currently funded at $56 million; if we assume the new school’s addition would cost the same as the additions planned for Key and Stoddert ($20.5 million), utilizing the Old Hardy School would net the District a savings of over $35 million. Those savings could be used to build the new additions at Key and Stoddert, a win-win for DCPS and for Ward 3 families. And the timing works: funding the Foxhall School loads in FY
2023, just three months before Lab School’s lease ends. Why would we choose to spend $56 million to build a new facility that accommodates only 500 students, when we could use that same funding to build three new additions (one at Key, Stoddert, and Old Hardy) that would accommodate hundreds more students, and provide relief to Key and Stoddert in the short-term?
Finally, although the new Foxhall School will provide relief to our elementary schools, Deal and Wilson continue to deal with significant overcrowding; unfortunately, Hardy Middle appears likely to reach capacity very soon, as well. Adding capacity at the elementary level will mean larger classes for our middle and high schools in the future. Although Deal is slated for an addition in the next few years, that new space will replace existing trailers, not add new capacity for the school; what’s more, the amount of common space at Deal—the cafeteria, the auditorium, and gymnasium—has not kept pace with the growth in classroom space. As a result, Deal has had to be quite creative in how they schedule specials, assemblies, and mealtimes; even so, overcrowding means some students have to eat lunch in the early morning or late afternoon. The school simply cannot accommodate more students without a scale redesign. To that end, it is essential that any new elementary space be coupled with planning for new middle and high schools. I have previously written to you about how Duke Ellington’s unused space could be utilized as a new Western High School, and the potential for partnerships with UDC to provide on-campus classes for our seniors. I am also curious whether your office has explored the option of purchasing the Georgetown Day School for use by DCPS, as I believe their former campus may now be available due to the sale falling through. The GDS facility would need little to no renovation to be ready for DCPS, and could accommodate several hundred students. Purchasing the site would be a cost-effective way to quickly add new capacity to the ward, and, if paired with a new Foxhall School and the Key and Stoddert additions, could effectively address overcrowding for the indefinite future.
Again, I want to you thank you and the Mayor for including the new Foxhall Elementary School in the FY 2021 budget proposal. This new school is a tremendous step forward in addressing overcrowding in the ward. That being said, I believe that the recommendations I laid out above will help maximize each dollar spent, in terms of adding new student capacity. I look forward to discussing the proposal for the new school and the ideas I’ve laid out above at our meeting in early June.
Mary M. Cheh