Housing Complex

As Ivy City Rises, Will Crummell School Come Back to Life?

This Saturday saw two celebrations of historic buildings.

One was the Old Naval Hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, gut renovated to the most exacting historic standards, financed through a pastiche of tax credits, local and federal and funds, and private donations. It took long enough, but is now all set to become a pulsing community hub.

Another was the crumbling Crummell School in Ivy City, celebrating its 100th birthday—it was dedicated on November 23, 2011. For this one, the outlook was much less rosy. Nobody responded to the request for offers to charter schools. The income levels in the community are too low to sustain a fundraising drive. The location doesn't present a business case for swanky events like those that will sustain the new Hill Center. A brand new recreation center just opened in neighboring Trinidad; in the eyes of the city, Ivy City's been served. And so far, the political will and organizational capacity hasn't existed to pull together the various funding streams that may be available for renovating the landmarked building.

Which doesn't mean there isn't a strong desire for something to happen there. At Saturday's anniversary celebration at Trinity Baptist Church, Ivy City residents who'd attended Crummell Elementary before it closed in the 1970s gathered to watch a rough cut of a documentary put together by community organizers from Empower D.C., which has been collecting oral histories of the neighborhood for half a decade now. Person after person asked for the school to be returned to the community in one form or another—including Romaine Thomas, mother of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas.

Even the councilmember's power is limited in this situation. Speaking to the gathering, Thomas said the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was considering using the old school for storage. And as far as I know, using it as a bus parking lot is still on the table as well. All Thomas could offer is words of encouragement.

"There are a lot of forces to make Crummell something else. And I tell them, over my dead body," he said. And then, something strange: "It's not about money. It's about investing in this community, and making sure the sweat equity is recognized."

Well, it is about money, ultimately. Empower D.C.'s Parisa Narouzi says she knows of a couple workforce development organizations that may be interested in partnering to make the building usable again, so that could be a start. There's an energetic new civic association that could start powering change. Developers like Douglas Jemal are increasingly bullish on New York Avenue NE, which means they could take an interest in such community facilities. And over the last couple years, a number of non-profits have been building new housing that could inject some new energy into the neighborhood.

But barring some windfall donation, it's going to take even more muscle than what the Hill Center had—and time.

Manna's new Bexhill condos on Kendall Street NE. (Lydia DePillis)

  • Chris in Eckington

    Couldn't someone convert it to a mixed-income appartment-condos/townhome community like Manna did with the Sphax school in SouthWest?

  • JTE

    "Person after person asked for the school to be returned to the community in one form or another—including Romaine Thomas, member of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas."

    Do you mean mother of?

  • Little Black Duck

    Mixed-income somehow never includes actual low-income people. And God help me, let's pretend just for a moment that we're actually listening to the community members who one after another, after another, after another talk about how they want Crummell School to serve the community in ways that no apartment complex could. An apartment complex won't have a recreation center, an adult training facility, drug rehabilitation, etc.

  • oboe

    Mixed-income somehow never includes actual low-income people.

    Doesn't have to, by definition. You can have condos that are targeted to two-income families with $100k+ household incomes, and young singles who are making $45k a year, and subsidized housing for city workers in high-need fields like teaching, or emergency services.

    One of the reasons that "mixed-income" has so little political support is that it's always assumed it means "market-rate and free housing for the extremely destitute." Hopefully that'll change because a vibrant city needs all income levels to thrive--not just the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor.