LAMB Charter School aims to move into Kingsbury campus

LAMB is seeking zoning approval to move to Kingsbury’s campus at 5000 14th St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

The Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School is seeking zoning approval to consolidate its three locations to the Kingsbury School campus in 16th Street Heights, with the shift intended to begin as early as fall 2018.

The charter, known as LAMB, intends to co-locate with the Kingsbury special needs school for a few years and eventually assume the 5000 14th St. NW space entirely. The change would allow LAMB to serve all its students under one roof and increase its total enrollment from 462 to 600 — but would also dramatically increase the site’s intensity of use compared to Kingsbury’s current 108 students. LAMB pairs a Montessori educational model with a dual-language Spanish/English immersion program for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

Neighborhood leaders have spent months discussing the proposal and how to mitigate traffic issues, though some residents remain wary.

Kingsbury intends to vacate the campus between 2020 and 2025 and to share the space with LAMB starting next year. Kingsbury’s future plans haven’t yet been publicized.

LAMB’s proposal for the Kingsbury site requires Board of Zoning Adjustment approval. In addition to the impact of additional enrollment, the board will also evaluate a proposed expansion of the existing school building and the construction of a 5,528-square-foot gym. Building Hope Inc., a nonprofit that seeks to aid charter schools financially, plans to fund the proposal.

If successful, LAMB’s plan will ensure “siblings are not split between buildings, and parents no longer have to make two drop-offs and pickups daily,” Diane Cottman, executive director and co-founder of LAMB, said at a Nov. 15 zoning hearing.

LAMB currently occupies three sites with between 142 to 175 students apiece — on South Dakota Avenue NE, Missouri Avenue NW and the Walter Reed campus. About half of LAMB’s students, 232, live in Ward 4, officials said.

The Kingsbury School site spans 173,026 square feet, which LAMB officials say is ample room to accommodate 600 students. To compare, the project team said, Powell Elementary School at 1350 Upshur St. NW houses 534 students on 101,540 square feet of land.

“Kingsbury has sufficient outdoor space, green space and off-street parking,” Cottman said at the hearing.

In the interim, before Kingsbury leaves the site and LAMB takes over, 485 total students will occupy the campus: 175 Kingsbury students and 310 from LAMB.

The zoning hearing spanned nearly three hours before being rescheduled to Dec. 20, after board members requested that the school return with clarifications on conditions related to traffic and noise mitigation.

The proposal is expected to have implications on traffic in the area. While the two schools co-locate, the daily number of vehicle trips at the site is expected to increase by 166 to 599. Meanwhile, after Kingsbury has vacated the space — and LAMB increases to 600 students — that number would rise to 900 trips per day. The D.C. Department of Transportation completed the first phase of a study on the area in July 2016, with phase two of the agency’s study slated to commence this month.

To manage traffic, the Transportation Department proposed several management requirements, such as encouraging carpooling through a reward program and listserv posts; giving students DC One Cards to accommodate Metrobus use; mandating on-site pickup and drop-off locations; teaching bike safety and education courses; instating a staff transit benefit program; allocating on-site parking for staffers; appointing a transportation management coordinator; hosting public meetings; and installing outdoor bicycle racks.

LAMB’s application won support from several local representatives including Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C (southern 16th Street Heights, western Petworth).

“LAMB has worked extensively to balance its needs with the concerns and desires of the neighborhood,” Todd wrote in a letter to the zoning board. “Many of LAMB’s families already reside in Ward 4, which means that many students will be able to walk or bike to school.”

But several neighbors of the current Kingsbury campus testified in opposition to the proposal, mainly citing worries about traffic and congestion.

“I have grave concerns about 600 students being in this neighborhood,” resident Amy Dime said at the hearing. “I don’t care if it’s in 2025 or 2018. I don’t think the community can actually comfortably accommodate what that will take.”

Dime also worried that living near a larger school might impact the value of her property.

Duncan Chaplin, another nearby resident, testified in support of LAMB, while conceding that it is important to monitor the process carefully.

“When I heard, I got very excited about the idea that I could say I’m in the neighborhood that LAMB came to,” Chaplan said at the hearing. “The way I view this is, helping LAMB is going to help improve D.C. schools, because LAMB is one of the best schools in the city, and making it easier for them to get more kids seems like a very positive thing.”