Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It's Time to Redevelop the Shaw Junior High School Site

Freeing the Shaw Junior High School site for redevelopment would eliminate a large neighborhood eyesore, bring greater vitality to the 9th and 7th Street corridors, and help improve the adjacent recreation areas and dog park

As has been widely reported, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has proposed the closure and realignment of 20 schools throughout the District.

In the Shaw area, DCPS has proposed closing Garrison Elementary School (1200 S Street, NW) and transferring the current Garrison students to Seaton Elementary School (900 block of Rhode Island Avenue, NW).  DCPS has also proposed closing Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson (10th and U Streets, NW) and establishing a Shaw Middle School at Cardozo High School (1200 Clifton Street, NW).  Cardozo is is currently undergoing a full renovation, and it would house both a high school and a middle school after the renovation is complete.

This plan has one major flaw: the already-closed Shaw Junior High School building at 925 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, would remain mothballed, rather than being freed for redevelopment.

Shaw Junior High School site
At almost 4 acres (not including the recreation areas), located on a major road, and in the heart of the Shaw neighboorhood, the site has very signficant redevelopment potential.  Shaw Junior High School itself was closed several years ago.  Since that closure, the school building — never particularly attractive to begin with  — has become a hulking and desolate eyesore in the heart of Shaw .

But rather than allowing the property to become a vital addition to the Shaw community — most likely redeveloped with new housing and improvements to the adjacent recreation area and dog park — the DCPS plan instead guarantees that the building will remain a drag on the community for years to come.

Shaw Junior High School Building
(view from Rhode Island Avenue)
DCPS indicates that it's keeping Shaw Junior High School mothballed because a new school could be built on the site if demand increased sufficiently for a new middle school.

But how likely is that to occur?  The current Shaw Middle School has an enrollment of only 131 students.  And that enrollment is on a downward trend — it was 188 students only two years ago.  And even with both the middle school and high school at Cardozo, Cardozo will still have an excess capacity of 400 seats (with less than 700 students and a capacity of 1100 students).  [Note:  Information on student enrollment and school sizes can be found here.]

Moreover, even in the unlikely event that student enrollment did rise to an extent that a new middle school was needed, the Garrison Elementary School site could be redeveloped into a middle school.

It should be pointed out that under the school closure plan, DCPS intends to keep the Garrison building in its inventory in case elementary enrollment increases.  But in the unlikely event that both elementary and middle school enrollment increase to the extent that both a new elementary school and a new middle school were needed, the Garrison site could be redeveloped with both an elementary and middle school, along the lines of the Walker Jones Education Campus on New Jersey Avenue, NW, which serves kindergarten through 8th grade.  Or the Garnet-Patterson School might be reopened as an elementary school, if the building remained in DCPS's inventory. 

Update: Garrison was removed from the final school closure list issued by DCPS, and will remain open.  A middle school could still be located at Garrison in a Walker Jones-type education campus, but the elementary school would need to temporarily relocate while the site was redeveloped.

The redevelopment of the Shaw Junior High School site is too important to the continued revitalization of the Shaw neighborhood (and the potential need for a new middle school is too remote) for these options to be ignored.

If you agree, you can email DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson at


  1. Great idea, but the first right of refusal should go to charter schools. I can't see why DCPS should "hold in inventory" schools that nobody wants to attend.

    At the same time that charters are over-enrolled, we have these empty schools in the heart of the city. It's a no-brainer. Expand popular, successful charter options into these buildings. Only if charters can't occupy should the buildings be sold or leased for other development uses.

  2. Agreed. Do something other than letting it sit vacant, attracting vagrants, and making the area unattractive and undesirable.

  3. At least Old City Green, the garden store that used to be by the convention center, will be opening in the plaza area this spring.