At a time when D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams is inviting community members to discuss neighborhood stabilization programs and the D.C. Council is examining ways to provide legal tools to D.C. agencies in cleaning up abandoned and derelict properties, the control board and the D.C. Public Schools continue to be the owners of some of the most neglected properties in the city. Although Congress gave the board and the schools responsibility for disposing of these properties in 1996, the status of almost all 50 of the former D.C. school buildings remains unchanged -- other than that they have been allowed to deteriorate further.
On Wednesday, the D.C. Council Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation will hold a public hearing on this issue. Unfortunately, the committee expects to hear what it has heard before -- that no school properties will be disposed of until the completion of a facilities master plan at the end of the year.
But regardless of what that plan recommends about future needs for school space, we are confident that it will not recommend housing schoolchildren in any of the abandoned, deteriorating buildings in question. These eyesores dot the city landscape from upper Northwest to the Prince George's County line, with Ward 6 and Ward 7 having the misfortune of housing 14 of them.
Two former schools in particular -- Lovejoy in the Northeast neighborhood of Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill and the former Woodson Junior High School near the Minnesota Avenue Metro station -- have sat unused and unmaintained for years. Pigeons have taken up residence in the two buildings, thanks to easy access through broken windows. At Lovejoy, the birds also get in through holes in the walls left by the removal of air conditioning units.
Trash has piled up on the grounds of both former schools, and drug dealers do business under the broken lights outside. The condition of the buildings causes would-be home buyers to look elsewhere, despite the city's having its hottest real estate market in 30 years. Other former schools -- Bryan at 13th Street and Independence Avenue SE, Kingsman at 13th and E streets NE and Hayes at 5th and K streets NE -- also are contributing to neighborhood blight.
A year ago, a developer interested in converting Lovejoy into apartments and condominiums submitted a bid to the school system. After nine months of silence, the developer finally was informed that his bid was unacceptable because it was $75,000 under the appraised value. Similarly, communities around Bryan and Kingsman solicited bids for those properties that also -- eventually -- were refused.
Thanks in part to marketing efforts by neighbors, bids have been submitted once again for Lovejoy. Will the school system again tell bidders to sit tight while the master plan is completed?
We hope not. It is time for the control board and the school system to deal with this problem of surplus property in a realistic way that will benefit the city. D.C. residents should not have to put up with vandalism, squatters, pigeons and rats for one more day. Let's put these overpriced monstrosities to use as contributing elements in our neighborhoods.
-- Sharon Ambrose
-- Kevin P. Chavous
are, respectively, members of the D.C. Council representing Ward 6 and Ward 7.