By SAMUEL BRESLOW
The DC Line
Mayor Muriel Bowser joined city officials and corporate executives June 18 to celebrate the start of long-awaited renovations to the Thaddeus Stevens School in the West End and the construction of an office building on the school’s former playground.
Bowser, who spoke on the dirt lot adjacent to the school where the office building will rise at 2100 L St. NW, characterized the occasion as a marker of progress.
“With this project, we’re delivering on our commitment to expand access to early child care,” she said in a statement. “We are giving new life to an important historic landmark, moving forward a long-stalled project, and creating a much-needed resource for our community.”
Officials plan to transform the school into an early childhood education center with more than 100 seats for pre-K classes, as well as a child-care center for children ages 0 to 3. It is slated to open for the 2020-2021 school year as a D.C. Public Schools program managed by a community-based group, according to the mayor’s office. The city expects to issue a request for proposals later this year.
The school, named after abolitionist Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, was built in 1868 as the first major school in the city for African-American children. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Stevens was the oldest continuously operating elementary school in the city until it closed in 2008 due to low enrollment, after which community activists fought off efforts to sell the property to a developer. The school was consolidated by DC Public Schools officials to become part of what is now School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens, a 471-student campus at 2425 N St. NW that starts with a pre-K program for 3-year-olds and continues through the eighth grade.
City officials announced last August that Stevens would house an expansion of School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens to help ease its extensive waiting list.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education said that the school system subsequently decided to “create early learning spaces for students from all neighborhoods as opposed to connecting the program to a neighborhood boundary.”
Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, proclaimed in his speech that “it is projects like this that help ensure that we move D.C. forward,” noting that the project will generate $100 million in tax revenue.
The adjacent 190,000-square-foot office building, designed by Martinez & Johnson Architecture, will be called Stevens Place. It will feature an underground parking lot, a gallery featuring works by African-American artists, a statue of Stevens outside the entrance, and a college-scholarship program focusing on real estate and development.
The groundbreaking had been in the works for years. An executive with the development firm Akridge noted that his redevelopment file on the parcel, located ßat 2100 L St. NW, stretched back to 1988.
After the school’s 2008 closure, the project went through various iterations — some of which drew vociferous neighborhood objections — and then was delayed for years while the parcel was used to accommodate fire and emergency medical services personnel and apparatus during mixed-use development of the West End fire station.
Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans joked in his speech that his first meeting about the project was with George Washington and Pierre L’Enfant.
“I’m so pleased that it’s going to remain a school,” he said. “So many times we tear down stuff and build new stuff, and what’s lost when you do that is the history of what happened before us.”
Bowser and other officials donned gleaming red helmets and shoveled bits of dirt with sleek golden shovels, a stark contrast to the chipped paint of the school building.
“Politicians love groundbreakings, and I’m certainly one of them,” Evans said. “But I can’t wait for the ribbon-cutting.”
This article also appears on the new local news website thedcline.org.