Tag Archives: schools

Architecture Local Writing

A Look at the Janney Expansion

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I finally got some images of the proposed Janney School extension. I like it – but it could have been better. With a few objections, I like its conception. Devrouax + Purnell, best known for the Washington Convention Center, the Pepco Building, and Nationals Park, here produced an interesting and attractive school building. However, the location where they have chosen to place the wing results in a lost opportunity for Janney and the community in general. Like too many developers and architects, they approached Tenleytown planning to not upset the status quo. However, any public facility should be designed with an eye to the future – and the current state of Tenleytown cannot last.

The building steps down.

Beginning with the generous setback along 42nd street, the architects attempted to hide the building as much as possible, so as not to intrude on the neighborhood. Although the Albemarle façade extends to the cornice line of the 1923 building, the masses of the building gently diminish into a low white structure that encloses the gym. Moving south along the western face, the building curves gently, from a tower to the first private residence down the block. The architects employed the shape subtly, repeating the curve in each mass to limit its effects. It does successfully integrate into the site.

However, this hesitant approach is not appropriate here. The architects should not have set the building back from the street so much. In doing so, they have reduced the feeling of enclosure afforded by a consistent streetwall, produced an marginally useful green space, and missed an opportunity to relocate the playing field at the center of the Tenley Library Public-Private Partnership debacle.

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For the 2007 plan to build a library with several floors of condominiums on top focused on the loss of recreation space (the rightmost field in the image above) for Janney Students. Some of that space would be consumed in the footprint of the condominium structure. However, had the architects located the new wing closer to the property line, they might have opened up space to relocate the eastern soccer field. In a political environment as vicious as Tenleytown’s, a mutually agreeable solution would have been a rare happy ending.

That lost opportunity is my main complaint – but there’s much more review below.

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Local

Duke Ellington May Leave Northwest

This topic is a little out of my usual purview, but it’s worth commenting on because schools are so necessary for smart growth – and are such a bloody issue.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is apparently considering relocating the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a more central location. Currently, the school occupies a historically significant building in Burlieth, but if the move goes through, the school will move into the old Logan Elementary building near Union Station. In its place, a new High School serving mostly Ward 2 students (according to Councilmember Jack Evans) would begin operating.

For the most part, I support this move. Locating the building near a metro station will make it much more accessible for both students and teachers. Logan would also require a renovation, which would hopefully allow for some great new architecture and preservation by a local firm. The building seems dilapidated and lacking in the relevant facilities – and theaters demand great architecture. It could be a win-win for DC and its design community.

But much more importantly, opening up room for a new public high school in Northwest will accommodate new families who will undoubtedly come as appropriate development restarts in Northwest. Don’t forget, the building now occupied by Duke Ellington once held Western High School, one of two high schools in Northwest, along with Tenleytown’s own Wilson. Wilson is now pretty crowded. With more residents along Wisconsin and Connecticut, it will need to more room even than what the current renovation will provide. Private schools cannot be the answer anymore – St. Albans, Sidwell, Maret, and GDS are already larger than intended – and the costs of each are way too high for most families, $30,000 per year for some.

Backlash and speculation has (unsurprisingly) followed the discovery of the plan. Is it a racist plot to get black kids out of Georgetown? Apparently some assholes not only think so, but approve. Perhaps its is just a ploy to get better test scores from parents unable to foot private education. That’s plausible to me. Either way, the students are even getting involved, with a blog and a facebook group.

But look at it this way: growth in Northwest means slower growth and minimal displacement in less affluent parts of the city. If a new high school – and a renovated campus in Capitol Hill helps to facilitate those trends, then it is definitely worth it. Even if Jack Evan’s posturing is right, and this school will serve only students in Ward 2, then it will still likely serve African-American students. However, like Wilson, Hardy, and Deal, it should be open to promising students across the city. Compromises that benefit the entire city are absolutely necessary.

There are a lot of “ifs” behind my support. But planning for a future of 600,000 DC residents is necessary, and a new high school in Northwest would play a major role. DC has sacrificed enough school properties in recent years, however, it is time for re-use and revival.

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091128: ANC Analysis

If we compare the other legal structures to the ANC geography, some other interesting trends come to light. Take the elementary schools, for example:

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Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091004A: Schools

So, in addition to the visible boundaries of the city, there are the invisible ones, ones that are really only legible to a bureaucracy, but have significant effects on the lives of residents. Because it affects individuals so young and even effects the parents, where someone goes to school seriously alters the social geography of cities. They decide where the majority of socialization occurs: in one school, in another school; in private schools, in public schools; in classrooms or in breakfast nooks.

When I was a wee little Flannie, attending Murch and carousing about my block, I had neighbors across the street whom I hardly knew. Why? They went to Janney. We met and played outside occasionally, but by 3rd grade, we both had already formed our social lives, and that was it. Our parents were likewise divided; they knew each other, but that was it. My street was the boundary between two schools and there was a palpable difference between the facing blocks.

In the Reno-Tenleytown-Tobago area, there are seven schools that provide Nursery school through Twelfth Grade education. Obviously, there’s also American University, but that’s not as relevant since its students are not shaped as much by boundaries and divisions. There are also any number of private and parochial schools students could attend, three of which are in the area, but with a minivan or a Volvo, you too can idle your car outside your child’s school. So let’s just do the public schools.   read more »