Housing Complex

Cheh Aims to Preempt Bus Lot With Community Center

The vacant Crummell School

The vacant Crummell School

In one of the most successful recent triumphs of civic activism over city plans, Ivy City residents persuaded a judge in December 2012 to prevent the District from turning a former school parking lot in the neighborhood into a major bus parking depot—temporarily. The judge issued a preliminary injunction against the use of the lot at the shuttered Alexander Crummell Elementary School as parking for charter and tour buses before the renovation of Union Station allows the buses to park there. The city, the judge found, had not consulted appropriately with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission or conducted the property environmental screening—a concern of residents who worried about the exhaust fumes from the buses. But the case has yet to be fully resolved, and the next hearing in a long string of them is scheduled for Aug. 29.

So Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh decided to take her own action to preempt the possible use of the lot for bus parking. As part of the D.C. Council's budget—Mayor Vince Gray's veto of which the Council is likely to override today—the Committee on Transportation and the Environment chairwoman succeeded in inserting a provision that would transform the vacant school building into a community center. The budget item, which has largely escaped notice, appropriates $1.925 million in capital funding to plan the community center in the coming fiscal year, and $7 million to build it in 2016.

Cheh thinks the community center will be a benefit to the neighborhood that currently lacks one, although the Trinidad and Brentwood recreation centers are nearby. But perhaps more importantly, she expects it to scuttle any plans the city may have to pursue the bus parking lot, since the school building would have served as a rest station for the bus drivers, with restrooms and a lounge.

"I thought I would eliminate the prospect of its use in that way and at the same time provide an amenity to the community," Cheh says. "The idea that they had for that as a bus parking depot was so terrible."

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has yet to return a call for comment.

Update: The office of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, in whose ward the building is located, notes that the planned conversion of the school into a community center was assisted by the transfer of funds from the McDuffie-chaired Committee on Government Operations to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment as part of a broader exchange between the two committees, and that McDuffie played a role in planning the move.

Photo by Lydia DePillis

 

Comments

  1. #1

    The Brentwood Rec center is on the other side of the very busy New York Ave & train tracks, and the 9th St bridge is really not pedestrian friendly. The Trinidad Rec Center is on the other side of Mt. Olivet Rd, which isn't quite as bad traffic-wise, but still a very busy street. Point being, both centers aren't really walking-accessible from Ivy City, which makes them out of reach for kids in the neighborhood.

  2. #2

    How does this fit with the law that charter schools must get right of first offer for vacant DCPS buildings? I know no one bid on it last time, but that was three years ago. There are now a lot more charter schools, and more that are ready to buy buildings. Does the fact that no school bid on it before allow them to hang onto it indefinitely and then turn it into whatever they want?

    Also, the 2011 offer included the whole 2.5 acre parcel. If the District wanted this to become a school, they could subdivide the lot, giving a portion to a charter, a portion to a private developer to do mixed-income housing, and leave a portion for a community center (or require the housing developer to build and operate a community center).

  3. #3

    Many thank you's go out to Councilmember Cheh for the inclusion of Crummell school in the Committee on Transportation and Environment’s budget. Additionally, on behalf of Ivy City residents I would like to thank Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie for advocating and transferring monies from the Government Operations Committee to fund the stabilization and eventual conversion of Crummell school into the community center the residents desire and need. Without Councilmember McDuffie’s transfer of funds none of this would be possible so please join me in also acknowledging his efforts in this historical undertaking.

    Regards,
    Peta-Gay Lewis
    Commissioner, SMD 5D01

  4. #4

    This is a triumph for real community development. It took a while and lots of people helped. Don't give up the fight against big deal developers in the District, everyone! Keep fighting. It's never over. Even though the powers in the media (cough cough) and government seem to be against community, if enough fight back, the District can remain strong.

    The writer did not list all of the organizations involved, but there were probably a lot.

  5. #5

    Major thanks to Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie for devising this plan to save Crummell (and it is perplexing that this article doesn't feature him). McDuffie has been battling the plans to use Crummell as a bus lot since he took office, and under his direction, his Committee transferred to Cheh the funds necessary to repurpose Crummell into a community center. This initiative is the culmination of two years of McDuffie's work, with Cheh's assist. Well done to both of them, and let's all encourage the Mayor and DMPED to abandon their faulty bus lot plans and support the community center initiative.

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