It looks increasingly likely that Woodrow Wilson High School's 1,500 students will spend the 2010-11 academic year at the University of the District of Columbia while their building undergoes a $70 million renovation. Lew's office says details still need to be worked out, but Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and UDC spokesman Alan Etter said Thursday that negotiations for the school to occupy a campus property known as called "Building 52"--atop the Gold's Gym on Connecticut Ave--are nearly complete.
While the issue of temporary space for the kids has apparently been resolved, there's still a lack of consensus on what Wilson will look like when they return in August 2011. The proposed design by the architectural firm Cox, Grae + Spack has some striking features, including a signature four-story, glass-enclosed atrium at the center of the Tenleytown school's primary building.
The debate involves the other Wilson buildings, and Lew's strong preference for their "adaptive reuse" rather than complete replacement. Under his plan, the existing auditorium next to the new aquatic center would become the gym; what's now the gym would be a new visual and performing arts center. But Cheh, in a letter to Lew late last month, said she is concerned about "the community's disquiet" on several fronts.
"Serious, informed people, who have been working on this project from the beginning, continue to have grave concerns," she wrote on Nov. 23.
Among the objections are the size of the new gym, which she said will be smaller than the current one and problematic for sports events. Parking plans will increase pedestrian safety issues on Chesapeake street, and the design leaves the campus with 17 different levels requiring eight elevators, five of which have no backups, according to Cheh's letter.
Critics of the design, who include members of the Wilson Management Corp., the nonprofit overseeing facilities at the school, say that Lew has never been clear on the cost differences between reuse and replacement. The issue needs to be aired, Cheh said.
"As you know and are sensitive to, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Wilson High School into a first-class facility...To express it as you might, it is as if the current design is 'good' but not 'excellent,'" she wrote.
Lew is scheduled to meet with the school community again next week. But with a ceremonial groundbreaking set for Dec. 15th and construction scheduled to start in June, it's not clear how many big design changes there are likely to be.