Janney School Seeks Space, Opportunity for Expansion

Some Plans Under Review Include Housing, Library

The District of Columbia Public Schools system has taken a direct hit since Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced a plan to close 23 schools last November as part of their “Renew, Revitalize, Reorganize” plan. Parents and community members voiced their concerns through an anti-school closing hearing and a school stay-out day.

Although no schools in Ward 3 are being targeted, Janney Elementary School, lined with portable mobile school rooms and classrooms filled with nearly 30 students apiece, needs more space and is searching for the right opportunity to expand.

The closing of the 23 schools will indirectly affect the Janney School in upper Northwest Washington. Janney and nearby schools are overcrowded, according to space regulations mandated by DCPS, and the school has a waiting list for families outside its enrollment boundary. With an expected enrollment increase in its 2008-2009 school year, Janney hopes to set plans in motion to modernize its current facility.

Instead of the city government taking over the project, it has proposed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) plan for the development of Janney’s land. A component of the PPP is that Janney is to sell a portion of its land to allow for development of private property.

Janney parents and community members filled the school’s auditorium at a public meeting on Feb. 28 to discuss three proposals for the modernization of one of the system’s most overpopulated schools. Eric Scott, deputy director of operations at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and program manager of this expansion, said the review panel is “very engaged in the project.”

Currently, the Janney School building is 43,400 square feet. Development of the school would include an additional 39,000 square feet to accommodate an expected enrollment of 550 students. The ideal enrollment is 364. But, its current population is 485 students, and the school is bordered with five portable units to accommodate additional classes.

Janney’s space crunch stems in part from its academic performance. On the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System in 2007, 83 percent of Janney students performed at a proficient level or higher in the reading section, and 81 percent performed at a proficient level or higher in math. The District’s overall score in reading and math was at 36 percent and 31 percent, respectively, according to DCPS.

Reviewing Three ProposalsWard 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh attended the meeting and said the council looks forward to further reviewing the three plans and has not made a decision yet.

“Not everyone here wants this development, but everyone cares,” said Richard Lake, a developer at Roadside Development. Roadside, which would partner with Smoot Construction, proposed a residential building with up to 150 units and parking underground to be located on Albemarle Street behind the new library. Roadside outlined a timeline to complete construction by September 2010.

The Janney School, which is situated on a 3.6-acre lot near the Tenleytown-American University Metro stop, sits across the street from Cityline at Tenley, a commercial/residential complex developed by Roadside with a Container Store, Best Buy and a 204-unit condominium building.

LCOR, which operates out of Bethesda, Md., built the Oyster School in nearby Woodley Park in 2001. Its plan would incorporate a 174-unit residential complex with the library for a “living and learning environment.” After two years of approvals and predevelopment work, it would start construction in 2010 and begin occupancy in 2012.

The third group of developers, UniDev, is partnering with the See Forever Foundation to develop a workforce housing complex to accommodate the increasing need for housing in the city for District residents. The proposal included an 11,000-square-foot library surrounded by a residential building.

Along with new development of the school, the Tenley-Friendship library will be reconstructed. However, the District still reserves the right to develop the library independently. The Tenley library has been closed since 2004 and was demolished in October 2007. The interim library on Wisconsin Avenue opened its doors last summer.

Jeff Bonvechio, capital projects manager of the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL), said “this area has had a lack of library facilities for far too long.”

The proposed Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library is fully funded and is scheduled to reopen in spring 2010. By the end of March, the city hopes to decide on construction plans for the library. DCPL has budgeted $14.5 million for the project.

Community Opposition Anne Sullivan, ANC 3E commissioner and head of the special committee addressing the Janney School, was a Janney parent for 15 years. She says some of the most important aspects of development around the AU Metro stop include adherence to zoning codes, preserving the character of surrounding residential areas, maintaining the scale of height between low residential areas and higher commercial buildings, and being cautious about impacts on traffic and infrastructure.

“The city government has not shown this will benefit students better than what the city itself should do,” Sullivan said. “In other words, the case has not been made that this is necessary or desirable. Kids will lose out.”

As a Ward 3 commissioner, Sullivan has hopes that the city will eventually develop Janney without building a residential unit. “My dream is that the city would just build what is necessary for the students and future generations without putting a 120-170 residential unit on site,” she said. “It’s wrong, and it’s a powerful message to tell children that their needs are not important-that a developer’s desire to profit and the city’s desire to save a few dollars now trump what is best for students.”

Members of the Janney School community are looking for the best plan to enhance the educational facilities for its students. Many are also concerned about any development that would cut into the play area around Janney, which is surrounded by green space, trees and a soccer field. They still want to explore other options, specifically, an unveiled city plan for the school’s development.

A Land Grab?“Any proposal that claims more than 12,000 square feet of Janney land for a residential project will be seen by many as a land grab, and will provoke, justifiably, strong opposition,” Dan Charles of the Janney School Improvement Team (SIT) stated in a Feb. 7 letter to the deputy mayor’s office. “The land at Janney is scarce and precious, and it needs to be preserved.”

Bernard T. Janney, the school’s namesake, fought in the Civil War and was a teacher in the District during the late 19th century. The school was built in his honor in 1925 by architect Albert Harris. According to the deputy mayor’s office, the Janney School is pending historic designation and any expansion is subject to approval by the Historic Preservation review process.

“In my work on the special committee, I’ve been continually frustrated by DMPED’s failure to include DCPS’s plans in all of these discussions,” said ANC 3E Commissioner Sue Hemberger on the Tenleytown listserv. “If we had our way, the table comparing the projects would have had an additional column for DCPS.”

In a resolution regarding the Janney School plans issued on March 13, ANC 3E proposed a school evaluation in accordance with educational specifications, an earlier date for modernization and for the library to be continued as an independent project.

“Based on the evidence available to us, we feel strongly that the community’s interest would be better served by leaving the modernization of Janney School in the hands of DCPS rather than by adopting any of the three proposals submitted,” Hemberger said in a listserv post on March 14.

Several reasons were given for rejection of the proposal including UniDev/See Forever Foundation’s desire to “simply build affordable housing on public land,” Roadside/Smoot’s “non-credible” claim that the new addition to the school will be complete by September 2010 and LCOR’s realistic but “less than appealing” plan to modify the school.

“The public-private redevelopment option for this site has now been thoroughly explored,” Hemberger said. “And the results are in-it should be rejected.”