Representatives of the old Dunbar, the new Dunbar and the D.C. government argued heatedly yesterday over whether the old Dunbar High School building at one time Washington's only academic high school for blacks, should be torn down to make way for sports fields or be kept as a historic monument.
"It's a sacred cause," said Mary G. Hundley, 79, who went from Dunbar to Radecliffe College and then returned to Dunbar to teach French and Latin for 35 years. "But these people just don't care."
"The trouble is that the people running this city now are new people. They don't cherish our history, our traditions, and our achievements, and they resent us."
But people now living near the old turreted school at 1st and N Streets, NW argued that the boarded-up building should be demolished so that students attending the new Dunbar building, which opened last month can have the sports fields they were promised.
"Which is more important?" asked Victor Blackmore, a a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Council for the area, "the community or the alumni? It is in the interest of the community and the young people that the plan be fulfilled."
"We have nothing but admiration for the alumni and their accomplishments," said Edward Nesbitt, executive director of the Center City Community Corp., another neighborhood group. "But we must be concerned with the present generation, and what does the most good for the most people."
In late March, just before the new $20.6 million building was scheduled to open, the Dunbar Alumni Association won a court order blocking demolition of the old building. The order was granted even though the ground space is needed to complete a half-built football field and track and lay out fields for women's sports and soccer.
Chief Judge Harold H. Greene of D.C. Superior Court ruled that the city government had not given the alumni a fair chance to argue how the old building might be saved.
At three public hearing over the past two weeks winding up yesterday, the alumni have had their chance. Among their ideas were turning the old building into a citywide academic high school again, using it for school administration offices (to replace the rented space the school board uses now) or making it a museum of American Negro history and art. They said the football field should be laid out at an angle to save the old school, or be built several blocks away on vacant land.
Lorenzo Jacobs, the city's director of housing and community development conducted the hearings. He did not indicate what he would recommend.
School board officials said they have no use for the old Dunbar building and no funds to operate it. Sam D. Starobin, chief of the city department of general services, which manages construction projects, said that moving the sports fields would cost about $3 million. Other officials said that renovating the old Dunbar building would cost about $6 million.
"The money is just not available," Starobin said.