Wilson move revives questions about Anacostia
As Woodrow Wilson students adjust to new "swing space" at the University of the District of Columbia while the Tenley campus is rebuilt, their peers at Anacostia HS will have another kind of adjustment -- to staying put while a $57 million reconstruction unfolds around them.
The opening of the school year has revived questions about why Anacostia's students will "swing in place," using the school's 1974 wing to accommodate the entire student body while work goes forward on the sections built in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Some community leaders express concern that the decision to keep the students on site could expose them to construction dust and toxic materials, including asbestos, not to mention a noisy and chaotic environment. The Wilson space, a UDC building on Van Ness Street, was nicely retrofitted at a cost of $15 million (split between the District and UDC), and some wonder why the city couldn't swing a similar deal for Anacostia students.
"You're spending the money for Wilson, but not Anacostia. It gets back to an equity issue," said William Lockridge, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. State Board of Education. "What is good for one school is good for all schools, especially high schools. It's just not healthy."
District officials said they have no concerns about safety at Anacostia. They also said that the circumstances of the two schools are completely different. Wilson has 1,500 students, and swinging them to another part of the Tenley campus or into trailers nearby was not practical. Anacostia, with an enrollment about half of Wilson's, had space available, said Tony Robinson, communications director for school construction czar Allen Lew, head of the Office of Public Education Facilities Management (OPEFM).
Robinson said his agency studied the options for moving the students and discussed them with the school community.
"The analysis showed that there simply were no nearby facilities that would accommodate the Anacostia program. UDC is just a few blocks from Wilson. OPEFM analyzed all nearby facilities under government control including Birney, McGogney, Moten, Kramer, Ferebee-Hope and Johnson, as well as a few private facilities including Hine and Our Lady of Perpetual Help," he said in an e-mail.
Robinson said there were also concerns that moving students too far away would hurt attendance and the academic program that Friendship Public Charter Schools, which operates Anacostia under a contract with the DCPS, is trying to establish. He added that the District has a successful track record of swinging students on site, citing recent projects at at Eastern High School, Deal Middle School and Stoddert Elementary.
Of course, it's also cheaper to swing on site, something Robinson didn't mention.
Lockridge said moving the kids off site could accelerate the construction calendar, which currently calls for completion in May 2012. Wilson will be back in its rebuilt school (at a cost of $100 million) by August 2011.
"For the next two years, students will be displaced in an environment not conducive to learning," Lockridge said.
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