About the Site
- Old Hardy is a two-story school building built in 1933 with 12 classrooms and sharing the same base design as other area elementary schools such as Key, Murch, Stoddert, Mann and Murch.
- The building is situated on a 1.1 acre site controlled by DCPS and is contiguous to a 4.8 acre site controlled by the Department of Public Recreation (Hardy Recreation Center).
- The combined 5.9 acre site is entirely owned by the city, without any National Park Service claims.
- The site is located along major transportation arteries with frontage on Foxhall Road and Q Street NW and adjacent to MacArthur Blvd NW.
- Old Hardy School is located within a neighborhood that is increasingly dense with families not served today by an elementary school in walking distance.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF OLD HARDY SCHOOL
1933: Works Progress Administration builds Hardy, Key, Stoddert and Mann Elementary Schools.
1972: The Hardy building is converted to a middle school.
1996: The Hardy Middle School moves to its current location on Wisconsin Avenue.
1997: City Councilmembers Kathy Patterson (Ward 3) and Jack Evans (Ward 2) stop an attempt to sell the old Hardy School building to Georgetown University; they cite a lack of transparent process and a need to retain the building for possible future DCPS use.
1998: Rock Creek International School (RCIS) begins leasing the old Hardy School building with a ten-year initial lease term and the option of three five-year lease extensions.
2008: RCIS declares bankruptcy, Lab School of Washington buys out their lease.
2017: The Palisades Citizens’ Association and Key Elementary Parent Teacher Organization pass unanimous resolutions in support of returning the old Hardy School to DCPS service; Mayor Bowser pledges public hearings if a long term lease extension is reconsidered.
2019: Mayor Bowser introduces emergency legislation which, if approved, would permit a lease extension of the Old Hardy School building for at least 15 years (and likely longer) without any public hearings or without following the city's own official process for considering the disposition of publicly owned buildings.
2023: The final five-year lease extension option expires, and the old Hardy School property reverts to DCPS control.
At the time the old Hardy School was temporarily closed by DCPS in 1996, public education in the District was reaching its nadir. That trend began to reverse approximately ten years later. From 2007 to 2017 the public schools in the Wilson feeder pyramid grew by 43% – or 2,919 students.
This upward population trend in the District is expected to continue. In 2016, the Office of Planning released projections that estimate 100,000 more residents by 2030. In November 2018 the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) released a Master Facilities Plan (MFP) which anticipates this same trend. The MFP projects that the school-age population of the city will grow from 92,401 in 2015 to 119,641 in 2027 – a growth of 29% in twelve years. The school-age population will exceed the current capacity of all DCPS and public charter schools plus current private school enrollment combined, by thousands of students.
Focusing on the DCPS facilities in the vicinity of the old Hardy School, the MFP concludes that every school in Ward 3 will experience at least 25% enrollment growth by 2027-28, including the following school-level projections closest to old Hardy School:
On the elementary school level, the MFP projects that every elementary school west of Rock Creek Park will experience enrollment beyond capacity by 2027-28 — with a total capacity shortfall of 1,122 students. The four elementary schools that surround old Hardy School (Key, Stoddert, Hyde-Addison and Mann) will face a combined capacity shortfall of 346 students – i.e. the size of a new elementary school.
Taken together, the data from the Deputy Mayor for Education's Master Facilities Plan points to a near future where there is no way that adjusting school boundaries or otherwise moving students around will address the deficit of classroom space – rather, more school capacity will be needed, and more specifically, more schools will be needed.
The stark enrollment projections contained within the MFP speak for themselves, but there are other factors to consider as well:
- The Displacement of the Filmore Arts Center
Stoddert and Key Elementary Schools depend on Fillmore Arts Center since neither school has dedicated art education space of its own due to overcrowding pressures. Fillmore is threatened with closure due to enrollment growth at Hardy Middle School (Wisconsin Avenue) where it is colocated today. If or when Filmore is closed, the overcrowding strains at Key and Stoddert will increase further.
- The Loss of Needed Diversity
In addition to the educational and physical constraints caused by overcrowding, new out-of-boundary placements have virtually stopped at many elementary schools in the Wilson Feeder Network, leading to decreased diversity and thereby negatively impacting the character of these schools.
- The Hazard of Built Capacity vs. Actual Capacity
Even the current capacity figures do not tell the whole story since many schools were built to accommodate fewer students than they currently accommodate due to the addition of modular classrooms, new wings, and the displacement of enrichment space in favor of more classroom space. As a result, many schools in the Wilson Feeder Network suffer from undersized common areas such as gyms, lunchrooms, and playgrounds. Some schools are not able to meet the minimum standard set by DCPS for physical education due to facility constraints.
- Skimping on Pre-K Capacity
Current overcrowding in the Wilson Feeder Network can also be seen in the lack of Pre-K4 offerings. Demand for Pre-K4 slots far outstrips supply in the Wilson Feeder Network, which effectively means that local Pre-K4 education is a matter of luck and not a right.
The Wilson Feeder Pattern Crowding Working Group
The Wilson Feeder Pattern Crowding Working Group was created to engage on the issues and potential solutions for overcapacity within the Wilson High School feeder pattern. DCPS convened a group of stakeholders representing the Wilson High School feeder pattern community, including:
- One parent and one school leader (or staff) representative from each school within the feeder pattern;
- One representative from the Ward 3/Wilson High School Feeder Pattern Education Network;
- One representative from the office of Ward 3 Councilmember Cheh; and
- Ward 3 State Board of Education Representative.
The Working Group began meeting in May 2017 with a final report issued in February 2019. Key points included:
- No feasible solutions for adding capacity other than return old Hardy School building to public service
- “The hope is that this report will help inform future school planning efforts, including the Master Facilities Plan, the Capital Budget, and Comprehensive Student Assignment and School Boundary Review processes.”
- Recommended DCPS explore ways of “adding capacity and square footage to the Wilson feeder pattern.”
Notably, the Working Group was mandated by DCPS not to consider the old Hardy School building as a possible solution to current and projected overcrowding. No explanation was provided for this stipulation.
Are There Other Solutions?
EXPANDING KEY AND STODDERT
Both Key and Stoddert Elementary currently use trailers to accommodate crowding; Mann Elementary completed an expansion in 2016 and is already at capacity. The 2018 DC budget included allocations of $25 million dollars for renovations to Key (2020-22) and Stoddert (2023-24) elementary schools respectively. The funding is primarily intended to convert the trailer classrooms into permanent space. The funding does not significantly address anticipated enrollment growth.
REDRAWING SCHOOL BOUNDARIES
Without additional capacity necessary to meet current and projected enrollment, the only other solution available to policy-makers is to redraw the school boundaries. However, the Master Facilities Plan anticipates that every elementary school west of Rock Creek Park will be overcrowded by 2027, leaving few opportunities for address overcrowding with boundary changes.
BUILDING A NEW PUBLIC SCHOOL ELSEWHERE
According to the Master Facilities Plan, no suitable city-owned property in Ward 3 is available for a new public school apart from the old Hardy School building. The city could theoretically buy private property at market rates for a new public school facility. However, the notion of paying a premium for private property to build a new school while leasing out the old Hardy School at below market rates – a building that was purpose-built for a school – would be fiscally irresponsible to say the least.
Current Status of the Site
Lab School of Washington (LSW) is the current tenant at the old Hardy School site.
- 71 LSW students are housed on the old Hardy School building today, of which, only 24 live in DC. The building has housed more than 200 students in the recent past, and code allows up to 488 students according to LSW.
- According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education's 2018-19 enrollment audit, 8% of LSW students are public school placements (31 total), and only two of them are housed at the Old Hardy building.
- Less than 40% of LSW students live in the District, with the rest arriving from Maryland and Virginia each morning.
- The current old Hardy School building lease expires on December 31, 2023. A lease extension of up to 50 years has been called for if the Mayor's disposition legislation is approved.
How Could it be Used in the Future?
The goal of this grassroots initiative is not to make recommendations or speculate about the future public school usage of the old Hardy School building, it's simply to make sure that it is not lost to public use. There are multiple scenarios for the building's future DCPS usage that would have an immediate impact on overcrowding with minimal renovations needed and no expansion. Alternatively, the current building could be expanded to house, for example, a full-size elementary school where there is particular local need. Consider the transformation of Mann Elementary School, which started out as the same base building design as the old Hardy School building. Mann was renovated in 2016 for $35 million, and it is now a thriving home to 428 elementary school students. Bringing online upwards of 428 new seats would make a sizable difference in tackling the overcrowding challenge on the elementary school level.
To date, DCPS has not entertained any of these usage possibilities for the old Hardy School building. In fact, according to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, there is no evidence that since 2013 (when a long term lease extension was first requested by the current tenant) that DCPS or the Department of General Services has ever studied how the old Hardy School building could be used to meet the evolving needs of public education.
Overcrowding in the public schools is a current problem and a looming crisis for our communities. The old Hardy School building is the only unutilized DCPS-owned building in the boundaries of the Wilson High School Feeder Pattern that could be reopened and modernized. Foreclosing on public use of this property for up to 50 years without thorough consideration would be fiscally and educationally irresponsible.