The Amidon-Bowen Elementary School community is reeling, frustrated after DC Public Schools (DCPS) suggested a swing space for the 2027 fiscal year that is 3.5 miles away from their home campus at 401 I St. SW.
Amidon-Bowen is slated to be modernized in 2027 and reopened in 2029. The Amidon-Bowen population is set to move into a temporary space from 2027 to 2029 during the planning, design and construction phases. The fully modernized school is scheduled to reopen for the 2029-2030 school year. The project will cost an estmiated $84.2 million and the new building will be able to serve 373 students.
Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
Through the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Planning Actively for Comprehensive Education Facilities (PACE) Annual Supplement for Fiscal Year 2024-2029, Amidon-Bowen community members learned the former Meyer Elementary School (2501 11th St. NW) would be the temporary campus for their PreK to Fifth grade students.
“It was frustrating to hear about the swing space plan for the first time because a parent happened to see the reference to Meyer in the Mayor’s CIP plan,” said Sarah Buckley,a member of the Amidon-Bowen PTA Advocacy Group (ABPTAAG). “We feel like we can’t count on DCPS to keep us informed, let alone take the community’s views into account.”
Meyer elementary, located in Columbia Heights, is 3.5 miles away and over a half-hour commute by public transit — a striking difference to the two-three block walk for most Amidon-Bowen families. Buckley, whose child attends kindergarten at Amidon-Bowen, became immediately concerned and joined the ABPTAAG.
“It’s three and a half miles through some of the most congested parts of the city,” Buckley said. Being miles away from her child’s school is especially worrisome given his number of serious food allergies, said Buckley.
The Community Objects
In response to the potential swing space, ABPTAAG wrote city leaders, pleading with them to find a new swing space geographically closer and to establish a working group to listen to the community’s needs.
“I think that there are a lot of times that DCPS or the DC Dept. of General Services (DGS, responsible for modernizing school facilities) pays lip service to community engagement without offering that engagement when it can actually affect decision making. That’s why we think it’s important to advocate now and it’s important to start having stakeholder engagement now,” Buckley said.
Buckley hopes DCPS puts together a School Improvement Team (SIT) of community members, parents and teachers to gather more community input to incorporate into the swing space plan.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC) Gail Fast (6D03) and Andrea Pawley (6D04) have been working together with ABPTAAG and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) on the issue and are hoping to galvanize action as Council resumes session.
“I think the part that is so frustrating to me is that no one wants to think outside the box, and they just want to take the kids and send them up to Columbia Heights, which makes no sense,” Fast said.
Fast pointed to other potential locations for swing space in the area, suggesting mobile classrooms in the field behind the school, similar to those erected beside Eliot-Hine Middle School (1830 Constitution Ave. NE) when Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) was renovated.
Another possible site is at Fourth and M Streets SW, site of a temporary Southwest Library during the building renovation. The commission would also like to look at the feasibility of using vacant office space in the area.
The ANC would likely consider a resolution in October, Fast said, but said it is activism in the school community that will ultimately make the difference. “It’s really the parents that are going to be the drivers of this,” Fast said, “but we’ll get behind them to try to keep the kids in Southwest.”
Councilmember Allen is a proponent of Amidon-Bowen modernization. However, he terms DCPS’s decision on the Amidon-Bowen swing space premature.
“For whatever reason, DCPS seems to have gotten way out ahead of themselves and told people about a location that one, didn’t seem to make a lot of sense for where their school communities located. And secondly, DCPS is now saying they hadn’t even made a decision. So, I’m not even sure of where they made that mistake,” Allen said.
“I’m committed to work with Amidon-Bowen and DCPS, as I have with our other organizations, to try to find a good space, and make sure there’s transportation and a lot of other accommodations, to make sure that the students have what they need,” Allen added.
The June report was an overview of school modernizations for 2024-2029, DCPS Chief Operation Officer Ely Ross stated in an email to stakeholders. The document only gives preliminary plans for future projects, meaning the Amidon-Bowen swing space location had yet to be concrete, he wrote.
“I want to clarify that at this point in the planning process, the identified swing site is preliminary, and no final decision has been made,” Ross wrote. “We understand the concerns that you have raised and are thankful that you have brought them to our attention.”
When DCPS chooses a swing space, factors such as travel distance, commute time during pick-up and drop-off hours and availability of swing facilities are considered, Ross wrote.
When no space is available within two miles of a school undergoing modernization, DCPS provides transportation from their permanent school location to the swing space for pick up and drop off, Ross stated.
“In the case of Amidon-Bowen’s project, DCPS will continue to explore alternative swing space locations,” Ross wrote. “DCPS looks forward to working with the Amidon-Bowen community to develop a modernization project that supports the current and future school community.”
The geographic accessibility of the swing space, as Ross stated, is crucial to its success.
Swing Location Threatens School Viability
If more convenient swing space is not found, parent and resident Southwest Alexandra Gutierrez will consider sending her daughter elsewhere.
“We moved to the neighborhood when I was pregnant with our daughter and were really excited about living in a place where we would be a two-block walk from the local school, where I could drop her off at school on my walk to work,” Gutierrez said. “And so, we just kind of assumed that that would be where she would go, so long as we lucked out with the lottery. But with this [situation] you know, it’s made the decision a lot harder just because she will be entering kindergarten, the year that the swing space is going to be in effect.”
“I think parents are rightfully concerned that if their children are being sent across town for a couple of years, that’s going to have a negative impact on the community,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to make neighborhood parents less likely to send their kids there. It’s going to make people start to wonder, ‘Okay, should I send my kid to another elementary school?’ And that’s going to affect children’s friendships. It’s going to affect their stability in school.”
DCPS did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Rachel Royster is a journalism major at Baylor University. She was editor-in-chief of The Baylor Lariat from 2022-23. A former intern at the Waco-Tribune Herald, she is currently a reporting intern for Capital Community News/Hill Rag. Leads: Rachel@hillrag.com