Emerson Preparatory School relocates from Dupont to U Street corridor

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The Thurgood Marshall Center is located at 1816 12th St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

Emerson Preparatory School, a longtime fixture in Dupont Circle, is set to welcome students to its new home on the fourth floor of the Thurgood Marshall Center, 1816 12th St. NW. Beginning tomorrow, the first day of the new school year, students will take classes in this new location complete with renovated classrooms, a new kitchenette and a gym.

Emerson — the city’s oldest non-denominational college prep school — had occupied a large town house at 1324 18th St. NW since 1939, but has been searching for a new location for some time.

“As a school we’ve been discussing a move for several years as the Dupont area is becoming more prime real estate for residential development,” said Jon Shickler, Emerson’s head of school. “Rather than have to respond in the moment should changes force our hand, we were more proactive about it.”

The owner of the building in which Emerson had leased space has been looking to sell his entire property, comprised of 1322, 1324 and 1326 18th St.; Emerson had occupied 1324 and part of 1326. According to Shickler, there was strong interest in the building from buyers this past year. “That was too close for comfort for us,” he told The Current.

Emerson Preparatory School used to occupy the row house at 1324 18th St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

In their search for a new location, Emerson administration wanted a centrally located building that reflects the historic nature of the school. “A lot of the space that is available … is really cold and industrial. It really limits you,” Shickler said.

The Thurgood Marshall building, however, matched what Emerson was looking for. It is along the U Street corridor, which offers vibrant D.C. city life for students. The center was also the first African-American YMCA and historically has been a gathering place for D.C.’s African-American community, including Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall.

“We really like how being here puts us in touch with deep and important intellectual history and diversity,” Shickler said. “Right now the building houses mostly nonprofit groups, and we hope to build partnerships with them.”

Shickler envisions students visiting tenants such as social justice photography and documentary group Critical Exposure.

“In general, the feedback for this building was largely positive,” Emerson spokesperson Mary Kay Roma told The Current. “We were in [Dupont] for so many years — we even have teachers who were students at Emerson — so there was some sentiment, some sadness about leaving our home. On the practical side of things, though, the building needed repairs, and being such an old building, it would have been hard to modernize.”

The Thurgood Marshall Center is an open space with big windows. This summer, classrooms have been updated, hardwood floors put in, the music room soundproofed and a kitchenette installed for students to use during lunch. The space was previously used by the SunRise Academy, a program for special needs children and young adults that closed in 2010 amid a federal investigation.

Emerson has signed a five-year lease with the center and has the space to modestly grow the student body, which is now approximately 60 students. Shickler believes that after those five years, Emerson may be ready to purchase a space of its own.