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City Asks Charter School to Repair Water Damage

Broken Main Flooded Building In February

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2004; Page DZ06

The D.C. Office of Property Management plans to request that a public charter school identify and remedy any damage to the historic Military Road School after a water main broke near the school in February.

The city owns the school, at 1375 Missouri Ave. NW, and leases it to The Latin American Montessori Bilingual (LAMB) Charter School, which plans to renovate the building and open a charter school in 2005.

Members of the Military Road School Alumni Association, who failed in an attempt to convert the building on Missouri Avenue NW into a museum, nonetheless are pressing city officials to ensure that it stays in proper repair. (Tom Allen -- The Washington Post)

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Flooding occurred at the school in February -- even though the water to the building had been shut off -- when a water main on Missouri Avenue burst, according to Carol Mitten, director of the Office of Property Management

Mitten said the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority repaired the main. Later, her office inspected the property and found that there had not been significant water damage. Nevertheless, Mitten said, the city decided that the charter school must make any needed repairs. She plans to send a letter requesting that officials at the charter school assess the damage and make repairs.

"We want to make sure that anything that is related to water infiltration is dealt with, because that could contribute to a loss of structural integrity," Mitten said.

Diane Cottman, LAMB Executive Director, said that when she receives Mitten's letter, "we will respond fully." She said her school will consult with architects and engineers to determine what needs to be done.

Still, some members of the Military Road School Preservation Trust, a dedicated group of alumni, are worried that the school is being allowed to deteriorate. The school once served the oldest black community in the District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The alumni group, which fought unsuccessfully to buy the school building and turn it into a museum, now considers itself "stewards in absentia," said group president Charles Powell. "This school is a special situation, and it must be protected."

In a Feb. 26 letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Powell complained about the water damage and asked that repairs be done immediately.

Although city officials said they were aware of a water main break only on Missouri Avenue near the school, Powell wrote that residents and members of his group had seen water coming out of the building in February.

"[We] observed that the exterior walls of the [school] were completely covered in dense sheets of ice and that, appallingly, streaming water was gushing from its open windows," Powell wrote in the letter to the mayor.

Powell and Patricia Tyson, corresponding secretary of the trust, stood outside the school on a visit this week. Although the school was protected by a 10-foot padlocked fence, Powell was dismayed by broken windows in the front and side of the building. A column that had supported the portico had been replaced by a stick of wood.

Both said it appears that the building has been allowed to lapse into disrepair and that they want to make sure that it doesn't suffer any more damage.

Powell said that although the trust is not legally responsible for the property, he feels a moral responsibility to watch over the school he once attended.

The building was erected in 1912, replacing a wood-framed building that had housed the school since 1864, and is noted for its Italian Renaissance architecture. The school will celebrate its 140th anniversary this year, and the trust has planned several events throughout the year, including an anniversary luncheon in October.

Although the building is unoccupied and locked up, the Office of Property Management expects the charter school to continue to maintain the property. For example, the school pays to have the grass cut.

In addition to responding to concerns about potential water damage, Lamb said the charter school plans to post "no dumping" signs in the back of the property and will look into getting a parent group involved in helping to remove trash and other debris from the building.

"The charter school accepted the property in 'as-in' condition," Mitten said. "The building is not in tip-top condition . . . and there is a certain level of status quo that we will accept as long as they are working [on the renovation], so long as nothing in the status quo contributes to a deterioration in the structure of the building."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company