The prospect that her beloved red brick schoolhouse in Ivy City might become luxury condominiums was breaking Remetter Freeman's heart.
So the 1941 alumna of Alexander Crummell Elementary School threw her support behind a group of activists that swarmed the offices of several D.C. Council members yesterday in hopes of saving Crummell and other old, abandoned D.C. schools from the auction block.
"I would feel very, very hurt and very upset if this beautiful building was turned into condos, because I think something like that would not help people in the community, the people who already live in Ivy City," Freeman said.
Freeman's knees hurt too much, she said, to allow her to join the Empower D.C. group, but hers was one of more than 2,000 postcards that activists delivered to city hall asking that the city put an immediate moratorium on such sales.
"No public property for private profit," about 30 activists chanted outside the John A. Wilson Building before heading inside to make their case to individual council members.
Yesterday, city officials canceled a hearing on the sale of six public schools, including Crummell, built in 1911 as one of the city's first for African American children. It is now a crumbling shell.
Other abandoned properties that could be sold are the Bruce School in Petworth, the Keene School in Riggs Park, the Langston and Slater schools in Truxton Circle, and the old Congress Heights School.
What the group from Ivy City wants to avoid is what happened with the former Giddings School on Capitol Hill. It was sold for $1.8 million and turned into Results, The Gym. The building is now worth much more, said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Renee Bowser of Ward 4. But, she said, "This is not the kind of development that benefits large segments of the community."
Bowser and others who want to stop such sales want Crummell to be a community center. Freeman envisions a senior center, recreation room for children, a small library, a job center. Realistically, the Ivy City group knows that charter schools would get first chance at the school. Audrey Ray, an Ivy City resident and community activist who led the group, said that would be acceptable as long as the school is allowed only to lease -- not buy -- the property from the city.
Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, said he is "not happy" that the former school buildings have yet to be offered to the charter schools, as Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) promised in August 2004.
When those with Empower went office-to-office with postcards and their message, they found that some council members were away and their aides said, "No comment." Others sent aides, who said that their bosses would get back to the group.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) took a step back when he saw about two dozen people in his lobby, but he ushered them to a conference room, where he stayed and talked.
"It's a disgrace and a slap in the face to sell this property," Ray told Mendelson, who promised to look into the issue.
Ray put a hand to her ear: "Just listen to the community."
Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.