By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Syreeta Williams, a parent at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast Washington, puts bottled water in her children's backpacks rather than let them drink from the thin trickle that gurgles out of the school fountains.
Her son, Auvoen, 12, a fifth-grader, complains that the restroom near his third-floor classroom smells so bad that he walks to the second floor, a trip that keeps him out of the classroom longer, Williams said.
As a parent who also serves as a school volunteer, Williams said she wants to trust that school officials will treat King "like one of the best schools."
King Elementary, in Congress Heights, is one of three schools that officials announced yesterday will receive immediate attention for such problems as leaky roofs, broken heating and ventilation systems and poor lighting. The $2.2 million Blitz Repair Program will also cover fixes at nearby Green Elementary in Congress Heights and Hendley Elementary in Washington Highlands, also in Southeast.
The schools are the first three chosen for a $75 million repair program to immediately fix what school officials call "quality of life" issues, including restrooms, water fountains, security doors and window replacements. The money will be used to consistently start repairs on three to four schools a month. The entire program, covering more than 100 schools, will take two years to complete, officials said.
King, Green and Hendley were selected first because they were not scheduled for construction and renovation until at least 2010 under the school system's 10-year, $2.3 billion modernization plan.
At a news conference at King yesterday, Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said he wanted to send a message to parents that their children will see improvements in their aging school buildings at a faster pace than originally scheduled.
"We don't want to wait years and years for things to happen," said Janey, standing in the school's brightly decorated library with D.C. Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb and school board member William Lockridge (District 4).
"There are things that still need to go on in terms of repairs," Janey said.
His performance as the city's top education leader remains under scrutiny as debate continues on a proposal by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to take over the schools. Janey and Fenty are scheduled to testify before the D.C. Council today in the last scheduled hearing on the mayor's bill. The Board of Education has also put forth a plan to fix the schools, but according to the council calendar, there are no hearings scheduled on the board plan.
The fixes at the three Southeast elementary schools will be completed within 30 days, said Paul L. Taylor Jr., deputy director of facilities management. Fairfax-based Manhattan-Forney Joint Venture will complete the $687,000 of work at King after school hours and on weekends. Gaithersburg-based Hess Construction Co. will work on Green and Hendley, with repairs estimated at $821,000 and $773,000, respectively.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said yesterday that he was concerned that the money for the accelerated repair plan would take away funds from a planned renovation of Walker-Jones Elementary in Northwest. Wells was responding to a Feb. 7 letter that Fenty sent to Chairman Vincent C. Gray, asking the council to reprogram $2.9 million for the immediate repairs by delaying the Walker-Jones conversion into a K-8 school. Wells introduced legislation Thursday disapproving of the request.
"I need an explanation," Wells said yesterday. "Walker-Jones was promised a K-through-8 school."
School system spokesman John C. White said yesterday that the accelerated repair program will not affect renovations at Walker-Jones and that the school board gave Janey the authority to spend the money, an advance from the school modernization money.
"We think the expenditure is within our use of funds as provided by the law," White said.