- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2021

Anger, confusion and recrimination have erupted in one of the District’s tonier neighborhoods over city plans to raze parts of a park that is being renovated in order to build a public elementary school.

Residents of Foxhall Village in Northwest are embroiled in a heated debate over Hardy Park, which is being renovated at a cost of $5 million. City officials want to demolish part of it and build a $56 million school that will offer a more diverse student body for the Woodrow Wilson High feeder system.

“The city’s plan to build a school on Hardy Park will destroy much of this renovation project and result in a colossal waste of money,” J.P. Szymkowicz, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Ward 3 village, told The Washington Times.

Located on the Potomac River near Georgetown, Foxhall Village consists largely of row houses and apartments. Hardy Park’s improvements, which include a new playground and a dog park, has excited residents there.

“[M]ost people don’t have back yards,” said longtime resident Robert Avery, 73. “The park is their playground. That’s where they go.”

D.C. Public Schools officials have announced plans to build a 75,000-square-foot, $56 million elementary school in Foxhall Village — one of two new schools aimed at addressing overcrowding and preserving racial and socioeconomic diversity in Ward 3 classrooms.

“Over the last several years, the Wilson [High School] feeder pattern has grown whiter and with fewer students meeting [the] at-risk criteria,” the school system said in a community survey. “DCPS aims to identify opportunities in this process to mitigate against the demographic changes.”

The school would be constructed near the city-owned Old Hardy School building, which houses a private school called The Lab School of Washington — another point of contention among residents.

In December, city officials renewed the lease for the private school until 2038.

“So it’s kind of confusing for people that are wondering, OK, why did you guys extend this lease? But then you’re also saying, ‘Let’s build a whole new school when you’ve got one right there,’ right?” said Mr. Avery, president of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association.

The DCPS community survey also asks residents to weigh in on policies, including “maintaining out-of-boundary access and prioritizing families who qualify as at risk for available out-of-boundary seats.”

But residents say transportation for out-of-boundary students could be an issue because there is only one school-operated bus line that runs through the area and the closest Metro is three miles away, Mr. Avery said.

Mr. Avery, who has lived in the area for more than a third of his life, is a member of a community workgroup formed this year by DCPS that has been meeting with residents and local officials about the proposed school.

At a virtual workgroup meeting this week, 102 residents in attendance voted against the school and 15 voted for it, Mr. Avery said.

Mr. Szymkowicz said the school plan was created “without any transportation or traffic study of the effects on the surrounding neighborhood.”

“If this plan is built, traffic on Foxhall Road will be gridlocked during school drop-off and pickup times,” he said.

Leo Blyth, 45, an off-grid solar specialist who has lived in the area for seven years, said DCPS’ planning process has been “disingenuous.”

“They were never asked whether or not they wanted a school … we want them to stop and restart this transparently,” Mr. Blyth said.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, initially proposed additions to already existing schools last year. But Mr. Blyth said that plan was scrapped without much explanation.

Ms. Cheh did not respond to requests for comment about the new school plan.

A DCPS spokesperson said in an email that officials are “excited to engage with families and stakeholders to ensure that the District’s planning is informed by all impacted communities.”

DCPS plans to hold a virtual community listening session on May 17.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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