Old Hardy Update: April 7, 2019

Old Hardy Update, April 7, 2019

New estimate projects enrollment in Wilson Feeder schools will rise even more than previously predicted: by 2000 in 5 years, over 3000 in 10 years.

         In my last newsletter, I wrote about the new report prepared by DCPS, in cooperation with the Ward 3/Wilson Feeder Education Network, showing that most schools in the feeder pattern were already at capacity and most were projected to grow much more over the next 5 and 10 years.  Overall, the student population in the feeder school population was expected to grow by some 2000 students by 2027-28, a number that can’t be met without additional school buildings AND creative planning and programming.

        But now the growth estimate is even higher!  According to a revised report from the Deputy Mayor’s office, called the Master Facilities Plan, there are now 1587 additional students projected to be enrolled in feeder pattern schools by 2022-23 and 3185 by 2027-28.  

        Not to sound alarmist or anything, but with an average size of 600 kids per school, that’s 5 schoolsfull of kids! And, keep in mind, most of the existing schools have already maxed out their physical footprint with trailers and/or additions. There is physically no room for them to expand, not to mention, many already have enrollments higher than many would regard as desirable (e.g. elementary schools with over 700students) . (See charts beginning on Appendix page A-24 in the Master Facilities Plan for school by school enrollment projections.) 

But Mayor continues support for giving up the area’s only unused public school building via a 50-year lease 

         Under the best of circumstances, this enrollment surge, which has been underway for over a decade, is going to require creativity—for example, maybe DCPS needs to be in the business, as charter schools are, of leasing space, possibly in one of the many new developments or a private school that’s selling; maybe we can set up early childhood centers, possibly in partnership with existing nursery schools; maybe some students would choose to leave the ward for desired programs not too far away. 
        We need to be creative.  But, even with all our creativity, we need every available building.  In Ward 3, there is just one unused DCPS school building: The Old Hardy building.  It was leased away a number of years ago on a series of short-term leases, when area schools didn’t need the space.  Its current lease, for 5 years ending in 2023, is with the Lab School, a very well-regarded school, offering needed services (for students with learning disabilities) to a number of DC, Maryland, and Virginia families.  
Giving away the Old Hardy School for 50 years is monstrously irresponsible

        Lab has two campuses; the Old Hardy campus is its lower school, and currently houses roughly 65 students, with most residents of Maryland and Virginia. Lab is a well regarded school providing important services. It should be able, easily, with nearly five years of advance notice, to find an alternative space for its 65 students.  It doesn’t face restrictions, as DC schools do, about where it can locate; in fact, it could locate in DC, Maryland or Virginia.
       As I wrote in my last newsletter, the Mayor has proposed to give up any DCPS right to the Old Hardy School for 50 years, via a long-term lease to the Lab School. As I also inferred in the last newsletter, this is madness.  Only with the new enrollment projection, it’s even crazier. We really, really need that school to be a DCPS elementary school!  
         Take a look at the attached map (courtesy of Nick Keenan, former president of the Palisades Community Association), which shows each elementary school in the Wilson feeder pattern as a circle along with the increased number of students projected to enroll at that school by school year 2027/28. Based on the revised Master Facilities Plan, keep in mind that about half of that growth will happen within 5 years! It would be monstrously irresponsible to give the Old Hardy School away for 50 years! 

        As of my last newsletter, the Mayor was asking the Council to accept the lease on an emergency basis, without even a public hearing.  Thanks to the hard work of the Keep Old Hardy Public Coalition (see their website, KOHP.org) and the strong advocacy of Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh (who wrote a strong letter to her council colleagues), it appears that there are not enough votes on the Council to pass this as an emergency, without a hearing.  That means it will come up at some point for a vote, preceded by a Council hearing, when the public can make its case. We don’t yet know when that hearing or vote will be. (And, in fact, any single Councilmember could force an emergency vote on it at any time, though that seems unlikely.) 

       For a reminder of some key facts from last newsletter, see bullets at the bottom of this newsletter taken from the DCPS/W3-Wilson Feeder EdNet report:   

  • As of last school year, 10 out of 15 Wilson feeder schools were already at or above 100% utilization (p4)–even though full utilization is defined as 95% capacity, since, by that point, all kinds of scheduling options are precluded. (p13)
  • All but two schools in the feeder pattern have grown over the last five years—with “double digit growth across the elementary schools and 18% growth at Deal Middle School.” The only schools that didn’t grow were two schools that were in swing space (which typically lowers enrollment) (p5)
  • “Many buildings are already built to their maximum footprint and do not have space to expand on-site.” (p5)
  • By 2025, the high end forecast has Deal’s enrollment increasing some 50% to 2253 (from last year’s 1507), many elementary schools increasing by 20-25% or more, and Hardy up by nearly 20%. 

Additionally, a study by the DC Auditor projects that Wilson’s enrollment will rise to over 2300 students by the mid-2020’s. That’s 700 students over the school’s capacity—a number larger than the size of most DC high schools. 

No One Solution Solves the Problem

  • New schools in the feeder pattern. There are short-term and smaller scale solutions that can help. But any viable solution to thousands of new students entering an already overcrowded system must include new buildings, whether purchased, leased, or constructed. 
  • Reopening the Old Hardy School, now leased by a private school.  
         “The Old Hardy School—the only DCPS building in the boundaries of the feeder pattern not currently in use by DCPS—could be reopened and modernized.  The location is ideal as it sits adjacent to the Hardy Recreation Center, providing ample space for play and outdoor recreation.  It is also close to Stoddert and Key, two very overcrowded elementary schools.
  • “Increased capacity in the Wilson feeder pattern must be coupled with strengthening and improving schools across the city.”
  • Improved DC options outside the ward, including language immersion and magnet programs could reduce the demand.
        The size of the challenge suggests that it won’t be solved by a single solution: The DCPS report offers general solutions options, including additional capacity to be gained through leasing, purchasing, or constructing buildings; policy changes; and co-location of new school space, perhaps at a college.  The report is also clear that “investing in the long-term strategy to improve DCPS school options outside of the Wilson High School feeder patter would help alleviate the growing demand.” 
            The Ward 3/Wilson Feeder School Education Network letter makes several concrete proposals, including: 

In the words of the letter,

“Not using the Old Hardy School, when the city already owns the space, would be fiscally irresponsible in the extreme.  And it would also be an insult to the rest of the city if precious resources that otherwise would not have been needed had to be used to acquire private space and construct additional buildings when many schools in other wards desperately need to be modernized or renovated.)

Additionally, a study by the DC Auditor projects that Wilson’s enrollment will rise to over 2300 students by the mid-2020’s. That’s 700 students over the school’s capacity—a number larger than the size of most DC high schools. 

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