Closings, Consolidation Will Cost $110 Million

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee substituted four schools on her list of 23 set to close after hearing public comments at meetings on the plan.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee substituted four schools on her list of 23 set to close after hearing public comments at meetings on the plan. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

The cost of closing 23 D.C. schools and making repairs to other school buildings that will receive students will be at least $110 million, school maintenance and construction officials said yesterday.

Private contractors and school system workers have to build age-appropriate restrooms for pre-kindergarten students, increase gymnasium space at some schools and add classrooms, among other projects.

The school closings plan of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will require $19 million to convert facilities such as Francis Middle School in Northwest and LaSalle Elementary School in Northeast into learning centers for students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.

The Office of Public Education and Facilities Modernization also said that more than $9 million will go toward turning off utilities, security, moving furniture and other costs at the schools that will close.

About $56 million will be used to paint walls, repair roofs and restrooms and make other upgrades at the schools that would receive students under the consolidation plan. And $25.8 million would be set aside for building extra classrooms and other needed space at elementary schools that will house sixth- and seventh-grade students.

Rhee has said that the closings will save about $23 million, but according to the construction and maintenance office, the city will have to first spend much more than that on the transition before it sees any savings.

The $110 million would come from the school system's fiscal 2008 capital budget, said spokesman Tony Robinson. The construction and maintenance office did not detail repairs needed by each school, but Executive Director Allan Y. Lew is expected to give more information at a D.C. Council oversight hearing today.

"We will get everything set up so that teachers and kids can focus on learning and teaching and not on the environment they're in," Lew said yesterday in an interview.

Since Fenty (D) and Rhee announced plans last fall to close and consolidate schools, parents and advocates have raised questions about the scope of repair and maintenance work needed to get schools that are receiving students ready by the first day in August.

That issue resurfaced Wednesday night at a public hearing about four schools newly added to the closure list: Benning Elementary and Merritt Middle in Northeast and Park View Elementary and Garnet-Patterson Middle in Northwest.

Maria P. Jones, a parent at Burroughs Elementary in Northeast, told Rhee that if she wants the schools in Ward 5 to adopt the model of pre-K through eighth grade, parents would expect separate wings for the older and younger students.

"That is what parents want. If you're doing this by fall, you need to get this started now," Jones said.

Lew's office, which has independent contracting and procurement authority, will begin to seek contractor proposals next week, Robinson said.

Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.

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