Dear PoPville – The New Dunbar High School is Amazing

New Dunbar

“Dear PoPville,

The new Dunbar High School coming in at 1st and O street NW is a pretty incredible project and a beautiful new high school, opening next month. I’m pretty sure they’re going to tear down the old, horrible high school next, which will be an immeasurable improvement for both students and community.

Here is some background:

I stopped by and took a bunch of photos:

Old Dunbar

Lots more photos of new and old Dunbar High School after the jump.






More of the old Dunbar:




47 Comment

  • Looks great! Man, the old school is depressing.

  • I’m a teacher at Dunbar. Make sure you come for the opening ceremonies! We will have something happening every day of teacher prep week (8/19-8/23) from 3:30 to 5:30. The 19th will be the ribbon cutting ceremony. Each of the next days will feature one of our academies and celebrate two decades of Dunbar graduates. On the 23rd I understand Alison Stewart, the author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School, will be there to sign books. I don’t think I’m allowed to reveal the other special guests we’ll have yet. 🙂

    There will be tours every day and all the events are open to the public. Some come take a look!

  • Yes, they are tearing down the old school and that is where the new football field and track will go
    the track and field will be open to the neighborhood pre school hours (so i think 5-8 or 5-9 or something along those lines)

  • What was the thinking behind designing schools to look like fortresses & prisons? Bruce Monroe had a similarly terrible & depressing layout. Was there a theory that sunlight inhibits learning or something??

    • “What was the thinking behind designing schools to look like fortresses & prisons?”

      They want to accommodate the average DC student.

      • Wrong. It was modern architecture 1970’s style. It was designed by a well-respected firm with open classrooms, all the rage at that time, on the inside, and with an exterior designed to be secure from the outside world. A lot of architecture from that time has not aged well.

      • Wrong, indeed. As noted, it was the design of the time. Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt is jail-like with hardly any windows, and was established as a science and tech magnet high school back in the 70’s. Great academics, horrible building.

      • Ridiculously stupid comment. Thanks for your lack of a contribution.

      • brookland_rez

        Have a sense of humor. I though it was kind of funny. Obviously we know the average student isn’t that bad.

    • Same “theory” behind all other brutalist architecture – cheap and relatively easy to build.

      • Agreed, and hopefully the suggestion that there’s some sort of intentional connection between the design of schools and the supposed criminality of students is just sarcasm. You can go to all kinds of school districts–rich, poor, urban, suburban, etc.–and most of the schools built around that same time period are depressing and fortress-like. That style was all the rage for a while.

    • I was wondering the same thing looking at the E.L. Haynes location on Georgia Avenue the other day. It’s not an ugly building per se… but it’s awfully short on windows. I like school buildings with lots of windows, like the Carlos Rosario school on Harvard Street.

  • I’m glad the schools are being renovated. But $122MM (for one school) seems like an awful lot of money. Couldn’t you build a new, decent school for $70MM and spend the other $50MM on educating?

    • huh.. your hand-waiving estimates are interesting… any thoughts on how much it would cost me to fly to the moon and back?

      • The school district in my hometown just built a new 150,000 sq/ft elementary school to accommodate 500 elementary students 18 months ago and it cost 30 million ($180 sq/ft), and they had to buy the land to put it on, something they don’t have to do at Dunbar.

        Granted, it is in a non-urban setting but this school has two gyms, a pool and a computer lab where you could with enough crazy AV and computer equipment to look like mission control and there is no reason renovating Dunbar should cost 61% more per sq/ft than building brand new, especially if you didn’t have to buy the land.

        I hate to borrow this phrase from the Republicans, but we have a bit of a spending problem in the District. I’ve been aghast at what local officials get away with spending on renovating buildings that would have been cheaper to build anew. Libraries, schools etc…

        Wilson Highschool renovation went 33 million (35% over budget). Dunbar went 25 over budget. Cardozo which has yet to open was supposed to be a 92 million dollar reno, and is currently up to 115.

        All told, to date DC had set aside 1.5 billion in capital schools improvements, but it running almost 500 million over (30%). We have another 1.3 billion set aside by 2016. If that goes 30% over, then by poor oversight, poor planing and execution, we will have gone almost 900 million over budget, or enough to build ~10 brand new schools in my community.

        Ginnie Cooper is pretty popular around here, but math is clearly not a strong suit. Her 120 million dollar budget for capital improvements to city libraries went 80 million in overages (not including the Georgetown library which burned down and couldn’t be planned for). It cost $18 million to design, build and furnish, which is about $3 million more than the average for the newly built branches.

        I think it is great that we are spending money to renovate and improve the schools in libraries in town. Really, I do, but there is nothing wrong with admitting that it is being done with near reckless abandon and needs to be rectified.

        • Not to disparage your other statistics but whenever someone says I/ we paid xxx either in my hometown or 2 months ago = argument lost.

          • And why exactly is the argument lost? Using incredibly recent industry pricing as benchmark data is completely relevant. Make the adjustments for cost of living differentials, and boom, a legitimate pricing.

            Schools in my hometown have to be built to the same building code and standards as this one did, so please explain why the “argument = lost”?

            And even if you take the benchmark data out, which would be silly, you can’t argue with the fact that DC is running, on average 30% above its budgets for schools.

        • I like your pragmatism. Consider a run for office.

        • We would need to know your hometown to see if the cost comparison is legitimate. But the point that large cost overruns are routine and problemmatic is well taken and deserves some investigation and explanation. It was only a year or two ago that DC employees were getting furloughed because of budget shortfalls. No need to throw away money. Who knows how long the good (for some) economic times will last.

        • the spending bothers me too, but at least we’re getting some good buildings. I’ve toured some of the renovated buildings and they are beautiful.

          Given the building boom that’s going on, some cost over runs are understandable, given the increased demand for building materials and labor. Add in the District’s various contracting set aside programs for local and minority businesses and it’s easy to see why costs are higher than in your home town.

          But that still doesn’t explain why the projects are running over budget, so I agree with you there …

        • DC is also in the midst of the biggest building boom in its history. Construction and engineering labor is expensive right now, if you can get it. If your “hometown” is in a economically depressed area, I guarantee that their labor costs are only a fraction of the going rate in DC. Same thing with building in NYC – labor is expensive.

  • The acquatic center associated with Dunbar, will that be opening back up or is that closed forever?

    • The time is now to let your council member, ANC officers, and school officials know that the swimming pool needs to be open to the public during certain hours.

  • I heard there is still some question about whether the aquatic center (25m pool) will be open to the public. The original plan was that it would be, but I recall some backtracking recently. I hope it will be open, as its both a great resource for the community and a good way to keep the community involved in the school.

  • This is also the first (or one of the first) LEED platinum high schools in the country … at least that is what the Smoot Gilbane people told our neighborhood meeting.

    • I think… as a result of the LEED part… they have to dismantle the old school more carefully… not just knock it down. So while it is going to come down, it might take a bit more time. I’m all for it though. A few extra months is OK with me since the incentive is in place to get it down.

  • It is slightly comical (not really) how they decided to build the new school on the 3.something million dollar field the redskins donated to the school

  • Actually, this is “old” Dunbar. Should of never been razed

    • I love schools in that style. I know that school buildings get a lot of wear and tear, and need to be updated to keep up with new technology, but I wish there were more left that looked like that.

  • Lets hope the kids attitudes change as well as the building did.

    • Problems with public education in DC go wayyy deeper than “kids’ attitudes.” It is simplistic notions like yours that make effective reform so difficult.

    • actually it is in the same location of the new school. they wanted it in the same location as the original dunbar. there are people still in the neighborhood that went to the original school. when they were excavating for the new school there were hallways, lockers all kinds of stuff found that was never removed when they demoed the original school. they were able to preserve some of things they found and i think will be on display in the school. that also added to the increased costs. they had no idea that they would find almost 2 floors of the old school in the ground when they started to dig.

  • The new school looks amazing! The old one looks like a prison …

  • Please please let the beautiful new school have new academic programs and kids with newly adjusted attitudes so that it actually deserves to be called a school.

  • If you don’t like the cost of construction in DC, you should lobby your councilmember to get rid of the First Source and CBE programs.

  • You do realize Dunbar is a NEW school, not a renovation?? The budget statistics also include all furnishings & equipment, not base construction costs, so you cannot compare a new school in an urban setting built to Davis-Bacon wage rates to a new school elementary school in [insert home town name].

  • the basement and boilers was still in the ground, never moved

  • The enrollment at Dunbar is also 50% higher than this elementary school it’s being compared to.

  • Which is why I have the per square foot cost so that a very easy and tight cost comparison could be achieved.
    My less urban hometown is a Connecticut bedroom community with some pretty high costs for everything. I fully admit DC costs more, but not 60% more than said hometown.
    As I said, I think it is great that We are investing in these things, but there is nothing wrong with admitting it is being done in a horribly sloppy way.

  • Eastern High School on Capitol Hill was by the same architect and was renovated a few years ago. Yes, it was unfortunate that the original Dunbar was not saved.

  • Can someone tell me what was wrong with the old building? From the outside it looked like a fairly modern 1970s building, much taller than the new building. Looks like it had central air, no units in the windows.

    Are they rebuilding the pool as well? Or just leaving the old one where it is?

  • Actually, my “hand waiving estimates” come from financing all types of real estate, including charter schools across the country. Not all cities spend this much. (And the city owns the land so they’re aren’t any land costs.)

    Now that the new test scores came out ant only 17% of the kids here can read…yeah, still conflicted.

  • Actually my estimates come from financing real estate for a bank, including schools.

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