Takoma relocation off to good start
Six days ago, Takoma Educational Center's new home had no heat, running water or kitchen facilities to feed its 328 students. Asbestos lurked in spots, and 48 classrooms needed to be cleaned, painted, furnished and decorated for grades pre-K through 8.
The good news was that the former Meyer Elementary School at 11th and Euclid streets NW, which last served children in June 2008, was still a building with "solid bones," as Anthony DeGuzman, director of the DCPS facilities office, put it.
It took a crash effort to restore the flesh to Meyer's bones in time to open this morning for Takoma's refugees. Their school on Piney Branch Road NW was rendered uninhabitable after a smoky three-alarm fire Dec. 22 triggered by roofing contractors using a blowtorch, D.C. officials said. Students were gone during the holiday break, but the blaze left an estimated $2 million damage to the second and third floors.
This morning, Principal Rikki Taylor and her teachers, joined by D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and DCPS chief of staff Lisa Ruda, waited on the front steps to meet the charter buses that will shuttle kids from Takoma to Meyer and back every day. There was a big push to offer reassurance and good cheer to students -- some of them watched Takoma burn -- who might be disoriented or anxious about the change. DCPS counselors will be at the school this week to talk to children who might have issues.
"We want to make sure kids are comfortable about the transition," Taylor said.
Corridors smelling of fresh paint and lined with balloons started to fill with children right on time at 8:45. In the cafeteria, some ate hot breakfasts with equipment salvaged from Takoma. While a few kinks were left to be worked out -- a radiator in a pre-school classroom blowing cold air and a few clocks out of order -- it looked like a miraculous job.
"I know it's going to be a successful transition," said parent Stephanie Thomas, whose son Justin, 11, munched scrambled eggs in the cafeteria. "They did an excellent job."
Workers led by Keystone Plus Construction Corp. worked round-the-clock shifts starting Dec. 28, when D.C. officials decided to bring students to Meyer, which is four miles south of Takoma's campus. Meyer, one of 23 DCPS buildings closed because of underenrollment in 2008, was selected because its 400-plus capacity can accommodate all of Takoma's grade levels. A new boiler was needed, and pipes that hadn't carried water in more than two years needed to be checked.
Keystone was bolstered by a brigade of volunteers from the DCPS central office, who even pulled in out-of-town holiday visitors to scrub lockers and clean off desks. The Takoma D.C. Neighborhood Association agreed to serve as a conduit for donations to help replace supplies and materials lost in the fire, some of them accumulated by teachers over many years.
"The volunteers were huge," DeGuzman said. "It's a facility, but we needed to make it a school."
The fire did have one unintended benefit: Takoma's 1970s-vintage building has an "open classroom" design that did away with walls. It's a feature that contemporary school officials loathe and are eager to eliminate. Takoma now has walls, albeit the hard way.
If you'd like to donate money for supplies, make checks payable to: TDCNA Takoma EC Fund, and send them to Takoma EC @ Meyer School, 2501 11th St. NW, Washington DC 2001.
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