City completes school modernizations at Reed, Garrison

Garrison Elementary School's renovation included larger windows to increase natural light. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

Students at Marie Reed and Garrison elementaries had a reason to look forward to returning to school last month, when both schools reopened after undergoing multimillion-dollar modernization projects.

Project price tags totaled nearly $100 million altogether: Marie Reed’s at 2201 18th St. NW exceeded $60 million, while Garrison’s at 1200 S St. NW came in at around $30 million.

At Marie Reed in Adams Morgan, which offers an optional English-Spanish immersion program, the project gutted a 1970s-era open-plan facility and constructed a new gymnasium, cafeteria and playgrounds, along with revamped classrooms and common room areas with new windows, furniture and floors. The adjacent pool was also redone and has reopened, and the building’s public health clinic and child care center are set to open this fall. During renovations, which spanned the 2016-17 academic year, students were bused to the former MacFarland Middle School at 4400 Iowa Ave. NW.

Ward 1 D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau said she was thrilled about the school’s reopening — particularly because it was able to stay on budget. A number of District school modernizations have far exceeded their initial budgets — most famously, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, whose projected $71 million cost had risen to $165 million when it opened last month.

Marie Reed Elementary School, located at 2201 18th St. NW, reopened in 2017 after a renovation that cost more than $60 million. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

“Someone has to be the bad guy from time to time,” Nadeau said of the D.C. Council’s role as enforcer in this instance. “For all of the schools that we’ve started in the past few years, we’ve really, really stayed on top of it.”

In an interview, Katie Lundgren, Reed’s principal of four years, raved about the new facilities. “It’s just night and day,” she said.

Prior to the renovation, Lundgren said, the school’s brutalist architectural style included few windows. Now, the space is flooded with natural light.

Hallie Shuffler, president of Reed’s PTA and mother of 6-year-old triplets, said that the school’s modernization has made a world of a difference.

“It wasn’t the outside of the building that made the school what it was; it was what went on inside,” Shuffler said in an interview. “What we now have is this big beautiful space that is enriching the community, and enriching the experience.”

Like many District schools, Reed has seen an uptick in enrollment — from 400 to more than 420 following its renovation. The modernized facility has a capacity of 450 students.

Shuffler said that Reed’s image noticeably improved following the renovations.

“Just being a mom in the neighborhood, I hear people talking about our school,” Shuffler said. “The reputation is changing a little bit — or a lot, I should say — which is exciting.”

The renovated Garrison Elementary School is located at 1200 S St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

Meanwhile, Garrison Elementary hadn’t been renovated since the building opened in the 1960s, and many agreed the project was long overdue.

Work there was done in two installments: In summer 2016 a stormwater management system along S Street NW was reconstructed and the school’s field was redone. The second phase started in February of this year and included refurbished classrooms; updated electrical, IT and security systems; modernized entrance and administrative areas; and the addition of a multipurpose room. The school has opened a temporary playground, because its field, playgrounds and outdoor classroom are still under construction, slated for completion late this year. During the semester-long construction, Garrison accommodated students in existing buildings and temporary trailers.

Garrison — which successfully fought off a planned closure in 2013 — enrolled 253 students during the 2016-17 academic year, but its 384-student capacity provides room for enrollment to grow.

Parent teacher organization co-president Jeff Simms said that the project utterly transformed the facility. “There were no windows. It was not a welcoming environment,” Simms said. Faulty restrooms doubled as makeshift storage areas, he added, and many classrooms were unreasonably cramped.

To Simms, the difference at Garrison is stunning. Classrooms are brighter and more spacious, and new windows illuminate the building.

And Garrison’s campus isn’t the only thing that’s new. This year, the school welcomed a new principal, Brigham Kiplinger, who has 14 years of experience in D.C. education, having served as assistant principal and teacher at District public charter schools. Simms has high hopes for the new principal, saying he is already impressed by Kiplinger’s communicative, organized style.

“We’re really excited about the year,” he said. “The environment is really positive.”