Wanted: one large family to live in a freshly renovated, four-story townhouse at 13th and Euclid streets NW. Six bedrooms, six bathrooms, central air conditioning, exposed brick walls, paneled basement, almost limitless closet space. Rent and utilities to be paid in part by the D.C. government.
The dream house profiled above may fit the description of many others now being refurbished to District neighborhoods. But there is one big difference in this case. This house, which was once an abandoned shell nearly destroyed by fire, has been rebuilt over a period of two years by a group of 63 vocational high school students under the auspices of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development and the D.C. school system.
The house, which is the first major project to be completed under the school system's renovation program, was opened to the public for the first time on Friday at a ceremony during which beaming students, teachers and government officials displayed the fruits of their labor.
The enthusiastic students of the District's Bell, Phelps and Penn Career Centers had only good things to say about their teacher, Rembert Allen and their experences on the Euclid Street project.
"We tore the walls down until only the stairs were intact," said Calvin Johnson with pride. Johnson, 19, is a student in carpentry at Phelps Career Center.
"We took out 20 tons of rubble in wheelbarrows," Johnson continued. "We used to call ourselves our own chain gang. But Mr. Allen, he was our main man. If we didn't show up one day, he'd call our houses.
"In the winter, we'd wear big heavy coats and he'd make us them off so we'd work harder to keep warm. He's one of the best instructors at Phelps."
Johnson's fellow workers agreed. They emphasized the value of on-the-job training under the supervision of teachers who were once professionals in the construction trade.
"A lot of D.C. teachers say that if you don't come to class, it's on your shoulders. They're not going to worry about it," said Jeffrey Liverpool, 19, another carpentry student. "But Mr. Allen made us come. And we proved to the other teachers at Phelps that going outside the classroom was a great experience. You couldn't learn what we learned in a classroom."
Allen was equally enthusiastic as he stood in the spacious dining room, complete with a shining black and white tiled floor, eating a piece of cake.
He talked about the program's selection process, which entails choosing students from the three career centers' shop classes who seem most ready to accept the challenge of working outside the classroom.
"I would like to see some 10th graders enroll in the program," allen said. "It's the type of thing that gets around by word of mouth. But we would still have to be selective about who we choose to work on these projects."
Allen said students who are admitted into the program are still required to take regular academic classes such as English and math, so that the workload is fairly heavy.
But he added that the job market for carpenters is "tremendous and the success rate for employment among graduates is good.
Most of the students who worked on Euclid Street said they will try to get into a union job after graduation.
"I want to take the union test and if I pass it, get into an apprenticeship in plumbing," said Derrick Dennis, 16. "If I get good recommendations, I might get in, and the union pays plumbers about $20 an hour. I'm glad I got into plumbing, and I'm going to stick with it."
Allen points out, however, that working for a union does not have to be the ultimate goal for his students.
"The kids want to get into the union because of the starting salary," Allen said. "But you can make about the same amount of money after two or three years with a nonunion contractor.
"Another thing my students don't realize is that, in the apprenticeship program, they'll have to go to school two nights a week and the school's out in Upper Marlboro. A lot of kids in high school don't have the transportation to make that trip."
The house on Euclid Street is estimated to have a real estate value of $150,000.
Sidney Glee, action administrator of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, said there are currently 7,000 familes on the waiting list for houses like the one on Euclid Street NW. These candiates are currently being screened to determine whether their income level would be sufficient to pay a portion of the utilities for the newly renovated townhouse.