When schools opened in August, the Fenty Administration proudly showcased the latest results of its $1 billion overhaul of DCPS buildings. Students at School Without Walls High School, Deal Middle School, Wheatley Education Campus and H.D. Cooke and Savoy elementary schools returned to facilities handsomely renovated under the guidance of construction czar Allan Lew. They are part of an accelerated five-year capital plan that is supposed to give every DCPS student the chance to attend a new or improved school building sometime in his or her academic career.
At the bottom of this to-do list is 50-year-old Ballou High School, not due for its extreme makeover until 2014, under current plans. While the school has had some attention from Lew's shop during summer breaks it's difficult to imagine what kind of shape it will be in five years from now, given the conditions we saw during a midday visit Wednesday.
Three first-floor electrical panel boxes were open. Exposed wiring hung from the ceiling where panels were missing. Other cable or wiring was jerry-rigged along walls and ceilings.The smashed out remnants of exit signs hung at the ends of at least two corridors. Bulletin boards and ceilings were in deep disrepair.
After inquiries Wednesday, Lew's office dispatched workers to the school. Lew spokesman Tony Robinson said the District did $4.4 million worth of work at the school over the summer of 2008. "Every year we go in and remediate what we can," he said, but added that vandalism is a serious problem.
Ironically, top Lew deputies from the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization joined Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee Wednesday evening at Cooke for a community forum entitled: "How does physical learning environment impact student learning?" Rhee affirmed "how important the physical environment can be in terms of communicating the right message to our students."