- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

District of Columbia school officials report that the mad dash to complete ambitious renovation projects this summer has paid off and schools are ready to open today, many with new and improved looks.
Students will see shiny new bathrooms, new lockers and freshly painted auditoriums sprucing up otherwise drab interiors.
"It's unbelievable," said David Anderson, program manager for D.C. schools. "There is no debris or anything else anywhere now. We've cleaned the buildings, put back furniture, and the schools are ready to open."
Years of neglect left schools in the District with dingy and broken bathroom tile, dirty walls and leaky roofs.
Although there was some question earlier this summer whether construction problems would delay school openings as in 1994 and 1997 when a judge ruled that fire code violations remained those worries were put to rest yesterday.
More than 145 schools are getting help in a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to fix bathrooms, paint walls, install new windows and new roofs and, in some cases, replace entire schools.
"We had a situation at H.D. Woodson High School with the rain, but we have sealed off the area," Mr. Anderson said. "We will continue to work on the roof during the evenings and weekends. But yesterday's leak won't cause school delays."
At Woodson, at 55th and Eads streets NE, desks and chairs were returned to their rightful places, dirt and debris swept away and the school readied for opening day.
That situation was typical around the city.
At 80-year-old Stuart-Hobson Middle School at Fourth and E streets NE, contractors raced to install new stalls in bathrooms.
While floors continue to buckle and get scratched, and dull mustard-colored lockers remain, the school will welcome students with a brighter cream-colored auditorium. The walls used to be a faded aqua.
"Many of the schools are built with materials that last, and we try to keep as much of that as we can," said David Morrow, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the school construction program.
"The difficult job is to draw the line where do you stop? We try to do jobs with biggest impact on learning," he said.
Stuart-Hobson hasn't received anything new since 1994, when doors were replaced, Mr. Anderson said. That's because the fire marshal fined D.C. schools every day for its malfunctioning doors.
At Peabody Elementary at Fifth and C streets NE, windows were on the verge of falling out.
Now, the brick building has new, white windows lead-free. Only one window remains incomplete.
Inside, the walls need help, but a painter is putting the finishing touches on pale mint green paint around the entrance door.
At Bowen Elementary at Delaware Avenue and M Street SW, five men worked on a gutted boys' bathroom, outfitted with cerulean tiles and new gray partitions. Except for the tile floor, everything is new.
"It was heartbreaking to see how it looked before," Mr. Anderson said. "There was lead paint flaking off the walls, partitions falling off, and broken ceramic. It's terrible that we still have schools with these conditions."
Principal Almeta Hawkins admitted being nervous over project delays but said she was thrilled with the renovations.
"It's wonderful," she said. "I understand the need for repairs. I have checked on them every day to see how far they have gotten. Now, I am just relieved we will be able to open on time."
On Saturday, lightning struck a chimney at Shepard Elementary at 14th Street and Kalorama Road NW. School officials said construction workers removed the top of the chimney and contained the problem. School will open as scheduled.
Both Bowen and Peabody were ordered to make improvements by a judge in 1994.
The average age of D.C. schools is 65 years, Mr. Morrow said. But until 1997, renovations consisted mostly of "patching up."
"The money is now in place to do more," he said. "Prior to 1997, funding levels were low."
He said the city will spend $55 million this year on school construction and renovation, down slightly from last year. The city expects to spend $160 million next year.
"It's going to take 10 to 15 years and $1.5 billion to completely rebuild the system," he said. "It's partly funding issues, and partly logistics. We need to keep schools operational with minimum impact while improving them."
Meanwhile, the city is overhauling 10 schools.
At one, Key Elementary, bulldozers and dump trucks worked outside, getting ready to build an extension to the 90-year-old building at Hurst Terrace and Dana Place NW that will increase capacity from 200 to 300 students.
The school has no cafeteria, library or multipurpose room. Of its 12 classrooms, four will be off limits during construction, while children study in temporary classrooms outside. The new soccer field was finished.
Scaffolding surrounds the new Oyster Elementary as walls go up for the District's first new public school in decades, which is expected to open in September 2001. In a novel public-private partnership, the school will be next to apartments.
Eight schools are still in design process and one, Kelly Martin, just advertised for demolition contractors.
Meanwhile, 25 schools will have ongoing construction projects throughout the year, Mr. Anderson said.
"It took 80 years to get this way," he said. "We are doing everything we can, but at least we are not just patching anymore."
All Montgomery County (Md.) schools also open today but one. Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville won't be ready until tomorrow because of construction delays, Montgomery County school officials said.
The postponement will allow teachers additional time to set up classrooms and prepare for the first day of classes for 1,900 students.
The school is undergoing $16 million construction project, including a 28-room addition and a new cafeteria, which is scheduled to be completed next summer.
"We are going to have a beautiful building once the construction is completed, but in the meantime we need everyone to be patient as we work through the next stage of the construction process," Principal Rebecca Newman said.
"This is a messy business, but we are going to be just fine."
Parents, staff and other volunteers spent the Labor Day weekend cleaning construction debris off walkways, removing dust from classrooms and washing dirt and mud from the parking lots.

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