St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School's new $1.5 million facilities at 4700 Whitehaven Parkway NW were dedicated Sunday by the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker, Episcopal Bishop of Washington.
More than 100 parishioners, parents, staff, and children carrying green and white balloons walked the three quarters of a mile from St. Patrick's church on Foxhall Road to the new building, where another 200 people had gathered for the dedication ceremonies. Moments before the procession was to begin, a steady 12-hour rain dwindled to a light drizzle.Then the crowd, led by four bagpipers, Walker, and Rev. Christopher Sherrill of St. Patrick's started their walk.
Far more miraculous than the sudden change in the weather was the fact that the grade school had finally found a permanent home. Nearly all the speakers at the dedication referred to the "(legal) struggles of the past 10 years" to get the city's permission to build the school on a location near the church.
St. Patrick's school first opened at the church in 1956 with six nursery school students. Elementary graded were added a year at a time, and by 1968 the school was looking for space in the neighborhood to build its own facilities.
Some residents in the Foxhall and Palisades areas, however, opposed construction and took legal action to prevent it. They objected on various grounds such as increased traffic and noise, but the biggest fear was that the private school would siphon off children from nearby public schools at a time when enrollments in the District were declining anyway.
Richard Beatty, chairman of the school's board of trustees, said this week that St. Patrick's would have little effect on neighborhood school populations. "There are already several private schools in the area. -And a lot of our kids come in on buses from other areas," he said.
Beatty pointed out that the zoning and legal battles stalled construction so long that cost multiplied, making fund raising an additional problem. The D.C. Court of Appeals finally decided in favor of the school "about two years ago," he said, and students moved into their new quarters last month.
Previously the school had been located on River Road in Potomac in the former German School building and before that, classes were held in two District churches.
About 275 children attend St. Patrick's, which runs through sixth grade. Designed by architect John Richard Andrews, the new glass and brick building sits on a grassy slope near a wooded area. The colorful and spacious interiors are not yet complete.
At the ceremonies, several school and church officials spoke briefly. School director Isabel Schuessler likened the struggle to build the school to "leading people of the wilderness into promised land." Later a representative of each class placed mementos, including 1977 coins, a student handbook, and a miniature soccer ball, into a "dedication box," a time capsule of sorts for future St. Patrick's pupils.
As the songs and speeches continued, some of the smaller children became restless. Occasionally one would begin to cry - by last count, 22 green and white helium ballons were stuck to the unfinished ceiling of St. Patrick's auditorium.