Eastern High School restoration draws students, alumni, admirers

The newly renovated Eastern High School was designed according to green building practices to conserve energy and water.
The newly renovated Eastern High School was designed according to green building practices to conserve energy and water. (Vikrum Aiyer)
By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Edward Allen was in awe of his new surroundings. His classes at Eastern High School were held inside portable trailers last year. On the first day of school last week, Allen returned to a completely renovated building.

"When I first walked in, my jaw just dropped," said Allen, a senior. "It feels like we are in college."

On Aug. 25, Mayor Adrian F. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee celebrated the reopening of the newly modernized Eastern High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NE, with a ribbon-cutting.

More than 50 students, alumni and city and school officials attended the ceremony outside the school's entrance, where metal fire doors have been replaced with wooden doors that open to a grand foyer.

"A lot of people have waited a long time for this day and with good reason," Fenty said. "This has been a long time coming."

The school, which began as Capitol Hill High on the third and fourth floors of a grammar school in 1890, opened at its current location in 1923. A groundbreaking for the $77 million renovation project was in June 2009.

The school, which has capacity for about 1,100 students, was designed according to green building practices to conserve energy and water, reduce greenhouse emissions and achieve a LEED Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group that certifies environmentally friendly buildings.

The auditorium's original wooden seats and plasterwork were restored, and there's new theatrical lighting. Two three-story atriums adjoining the auditorium's side entrances were enclosed with barrel-vaulted skylights.

About 100 energy-efficient exterior windows were replaced. The original terra cotta flooring was restored.

"The amount of money we spent isn't even close to the amount of money the restoration is worth," Fenty said.

Phyllis Anderson, who graduated from Eastern in 1966 and is president of the alumni association, said many former students have followed the renovation project closely and were eager to see it completed. Most of them were happy with the results, she said.

"This is certainly a great day," Anderson said. "We are elated to see a large percentage of the school restored and renovated."

In addition to the building renovations, Rhee said, the school should experience an academic renewal with more Advanced Placement courses and additional resources for its health academy. The goal, she said, is for Eastern to become the second D.C. public school to offer the International Baccalaureate diploma program.

"We're heading in the right direction in order to ensure that the school once again becomes the pride of Capitol Hill," she said.

It might take time to reach those goals. Only the senior class has returned to the school. Next year, the building is scheduled to be open for all grade levels.

Allen said returning to the building for his final year of high school has brought back a sense of school pride for himself and most of his classmates. "I'm proud to be put in this type of situation . . . to be in this type of building and learning environment," he said.

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