After years of complaining that eight vacant prefab classroom buildings behind Davis Elementary School are unsightly and hazardous, Southeast residents are claiming limited success. Last week, the D.C. Department of General Services ordered the buildings boarded up. The community wants them removed.
Parents, teachers and school administrators say they've urged the city to board up or remove the former classrooms since 1976 because they are a safety hazard to the dozens of unsupervised children who play on the school grounds during the summer.
Their persistence partially paid off when city workmen boarded up the Davis buildings and seven others like them at Keene, Hendley, Nalle, River Terrace and Lafayette elementary schools. The structures, which were used during the peak enrollment of the 60s and early 70s, have not been used for more than five years. Collapsible buildings, they can be dismantled and reassembled.
General Services officials put them up for sale last week, but they have not been overwhelmed with bids for the 15 buildings, left from an initial 200. One contractor bid $10 for two of the eight buildings at Davis.
GS officials say the city is willing to sell the buildings for almost nothing just to get rid of them since they are costly to move. If bids do not come in by the middle of August, GS says it will use city money to demolish them.
William T. Jones, assistant General Services director, estimates the city will have to spend $50,000 for the demolition and to clean the property beneath them by the end of the year.
Parents and teachers are irked that GS took so long to respond.
"You get sick and tired of asking nicely," said Ben Thomas, commissioner of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7E. "We've been going after the people down there at General Services for many, many months. There's a different excuse every time. Meanwhile, kids are getting hurt and parents are furious.
GS spokesmen insist the structures are safely locked, but workmen at Davis say children can easily sneak in by unscrewing a few bolts and bending a few wires.
On July 4, a child was slightly burned while igniting fireworks in one of the buildings and last month, they said, several youngsters were cut while playing with the pliable metal walls.
School employes also said that students smoke marijuana in the buildings and that at least one person stored stolen property in one.
The buildings were turned over to the city by the board of education in 1975.
In turn, GS was ordered to dispose of them as soon as possible, but no timetable was established. All but the remaining 15 were sold.
When The Washington Post called after receiving complaints last week, Donald Kroll, the GS official in charge of disposing of the District's real estate, said he had received irate calls.
"But our hands are tied," he explained before the decision to board up the buildings was announced. "We don't have the personnel or the money to board them up. I'm not happy we can't be more responsive, but we can't." He later said pressure from parents forced last week's action.
Kroll's boss, William T. Jones, insisted in a separate interview that General Services acted on the complaints as soon as he heard them.
Some parents think the school board rather than the city should be held responsible for the sale, but board members say they lack the power to sell the buildings since they no longer belong to the school district.
Still, board members are annoyed by General Service's sluggish reaction to the Davis problem and say they'll complain to Mayor Barry if all the vacant buildings are not gone when school starts Sept. 3.
Board member Barbara Lett Simmons, who has been embroiled in the battle, is among those not satisfied.
"We've tried to be informal with GS. And that obviously hasn't worked," she said. "You can only give them so many chances and then you toughen up."