From Obsolete to State of the Art

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hardy Middle School in Northwest Washington will reopen next week with a much larger library after a two-year renovation project. After being mothballed six years ago, Phelps High School in Northeast will relaunch with an updated focus on the construction trades. And John Philip Sousa Middle School in Southeast will have a brighter building that incorporates its historic role in the civil rights movement.

School construction officials say the renovations are a harbinger of the work that will be done in the next few years to turn dilapidated buildings across the city into state-of-the-art campuses. The three projects will serve as blueprints for the city's $2.3 billion modernization plan, which is to be released next month and will guide the renovation of more than 100 schools.

The changes at Sousa, which cost $34.5 million, are striking. Pre-construction photos show dimly lighted hallways with old floor tiles and classrooms with dingy walls and traditional chalkboards and desks. Students will be greeted with a bright main corridor featuring a dramatic curved staircase and yellow accent stripes on the white ceiling. Classrooms, painted in colors such as salmon, will be equipped with new computers, whiteboards and, in some cases, black tables instead of desks.

The school, at 3650 Ely Pl. SE, also was designed to be energy-efficient, with sensor lights in corridors and classrooms that shut off when no one is present.

"I'm ecstatic" about moving into a refurbished building, said newly hired Sousa Principal Dwan Jordon, who previously worked in Prince George's County schools. "I'm more excited for the community."

Sousa's role in the civil rights movement began in fall 1950, when the D.C. school system denied a request by a group of black children to enroll in the all-white school. The school system's rejection of the students sparked the Bolling v. Sharpe case, which led to the landmark Supreme Court decision -- incorporated into the Brown v. Board of Education ruling -- that struck down "separate-but-equal" schools.

Fifty-eight years later, Sousa officials are planning to incorporate that history into the school.

"Sousa is a historic building. I want to make sure that's represented in the school," Jordon said, adding that parents plan to establish a museum with photos and other artifacts from the Supreme Court case.

"Twenty years ago, Sousa was a performing arts school," he said, adding that Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee "wants to do that again next year, adding dance, visual arts, creative writing and band."

The challenge for construction officials was to preserve the historic character of the aging building while bringing them into the 21st century. The work included restoring details such as wainscot and ornamental ceilings while replacing ventilation systems, plumbing and wiring and making the schools accessible to the disabled.

The aim is to rehabilitate buildings rather than start from scratch, an approach that officials said will save time and money.

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