Construction on the renovation and modernization of Maury Elementary School (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) is nearly complete. The $52 million project began in January 2018 and is expected to be completed in July with teachers scheduled to move into the building this August. Since the renovations began, students have been located at Maury “Village,” trailers on the east side of the Eliot-Hine Middle School campus, located on the 1800 block of Constitution NE.
The primary objective of the renovation is to increase the school’s capacity, balancing building size with outdoor play space. The design incorporates light-filled spaces into a brand-new buildout that links the old with the new.
Prior to construction, the Maury campus consisted of a historic building dating to about 1886, as well as a 1960s building and a classroom trailer, combining for 46,800 square feet in total area and accommodating 360 students. The new and renovated space will increase the footprint by about 6,000 square feet and the school will be able to accommodate 539 students.
Max Kieba, Chair of the School Improvement Team (SIT) which advises DCPS on the project design, said that working on the modernization was challenging. Part of the challenge, he said, was balancing capacity and curriculum needs with a desire for outdoor play space and the ever-present concerns with parking. Still, he thinks the process was largely successful.
“I think overall we tried to strike a good balance,” he said. “You can only do so much with the footprint we have, and I think we landed on a good compromise size.”
Chief Operating Officer Patrick Davis helms the DCPS team that supervises school modernizations and renovations in the District, 18 of them currently in progress between design and construction. Davis agrees that the Maury modernization posed unique obstacles.
“We had to be really creative. One of the things we worked a lot with the community on was trying to maximize as much play space as we possible could,” Davis said.
The design follows DCPS Education Specifications, or Ed Specs, which were published in 2017. These are guiding principles used by the design team as standards for school features. Davis explained how the standards create consistency in facilities, but allow the team to address community-specific needs.
“Not every one of our schools is exactly the same,” Davis said. “We give leeway and flexibility to the design team and see what they come up with as part of the process.”
Davis said that DCPS heard from the community that they want to prioritize space for play, and in response, designers incorporated open, airy and playful elements. Kindergarten rooms have glassed-in window reading nooks looking out to the hallway, spaces for kids to curl up and read. Stairways will be adorned with locally-produced art.
Each floor accommodates different grade bands, with early education on the lowest floor and the highest grades, including fourth- and fifth-graders, at the top level. The floors are decorated in different color schemes to support student wayfinding.
At the center of the design is a light-filled atrium, linking the gathering space at the front entrance on Constitution Avenue to the playground in the back. Interior classrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the atrium space, allowing natural light in each of the rooms and views of nature, both of which Davis said, have been found to reduce stress-levels in students and staff.
The atrium is separated from the gymnasium by an operable wall, allowing for the simultaneous use of the combined space or separation between the gym from the atrium and cafeteria.
The library, located on the second and third floors, includes a two-floor window overlooking the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 13th Street NE. On one level is the library itself and instructional space, as well as a number of reading nooks; the upstairs mezzanine consists of maker space, where kids can tinker with equipment such as a 3-D printer, as well as a conference or work room.
The exterior of the new structure is a study in contrast, the atrium linking the historic structure to new construction along the 13th Street and 12th Place NE sides. Considerable thought was exercised in order to incorporate the building efficiently into a relatively tight area while creating spaces that facilitate safe pedestrian traffic flow.
In response to concerns that exiting the building would put students directly onto Constitution Avenue, a courtyard gathering space in front of the new main entrance permits families to gather within arm’s reach of the school itself. Sidewalks will be bumped out along the 13th Street side of the building, creating a buffer from the school to the street.
The renovation expands the lot occupancy of the building and playgrounds. Davis said this reduces onsite parking spaces to 22, the minimum mandated by the zoning commission.
“Currently we are meeting the zoning minimum,” Davis said. “There was a request from the community to increase play space at the expense of parking, so we’ve been working with District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to evaluate a street-parking solution that would give parking to teachers on curbside.” If that plan works, the team has a design to convert part of the parking lot to additional play space.
DCPS announced June 17 that they will partner in a two-year, $100,000 study by Drexel University and Perkins Eastman that will examine the impact of modernization on student outcomes.
Students are ready to return. Many of them contributed to discussions about classroom spaces and playground color schemes, said Kieba. “Our kids are definitely excited to be back,” he said. “A lot of people are excited to be returning to –well, we used to call it the ‘Old Maury’. I guess now we’ll have to call it ‘the New Maury’.”
Learn more about Maury’s modernization process by visiting sites.google.com/a/dc.gov/dcps-school-modernizations/home/maury-elementary-school. Learn more about the Maury community by visiting mauryelementary.com. Learn about the modernization study at architectmagazine.com