Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry and her staff are discussing the possibility of closing Maury Elementary School for one year while the school is renovated.
Associate Superintendent of schools, Lois Berlin, discussed the proposal with Maury staff at a meeting last week, according to Alexandria School Board Chairman Mark Wilkoff. The idea has not yet been discussed with the School Board.
“We wanted to give staff at Maury the opportunity to provide input to this idea before it comes to the Board,” Wilkoff said. “This is just one option that we are considering because of the extensive construction that will be occurring at Maury. If we phase the project, it could take as long as two years and be extremely disruptive to the students there. If we move them for one year, we can complete the project in a shorter period of time.”
Maury is getting a new media center and undergoing extensive renovations, according to the plans. Because of the amount of space that is being added, the state code requires that a sprinkler system be installed.
“Maury was built at a time when the code requirements for school construction were different,” said Art Dahlberg, the director of code enforcement for the city. “Now, all schools fall under the uniform code for buildings. If a school exceeds 20,000 square feet of space, a sprinkler system is required.
“As short a time as three weeks ago, we talked with the school system about phasing this project. Of course any type of construction will be disruptive to students. Whether they close the building during construction or not is, of course their call,” he said.
SOME SCHOOL SYSTEM employees see this as an excuse to disperse Maury students throughout the school system as Maury is considered to be a failing school under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Wilkoff denied this.
“I have heard no plan that would disperse the Maury students throughout the school system,” he said. “One option that we are considering is to move all of them to one facility for one year and then return them to a beautifully renovated and expanded facility. For elementary school students, particularly, construction can be very disruptive. Our goal is to do what is best for the Maury students,” Wilkoff said.
Just where would they find a facility that would accommodate all of the Maury students and staff?
"We are considering several options but I would prefer not to discuss them," Wilkoff said.
Dahlberg said that many schools have been renovated and sprinkler systems installed while students were present.
“The school system sprinklered the entire complex at George Washington Middle School while the students were there,” he said. “At Charles Barrett Elementary School and at Lyles-Crouch Elementary School, they avoided the problem by either breaking up the space into smaller buildings and constructing fire walls between those buildings or they are not at the 20,000 square foot trigger.
“The school system’s decision to sprinkler Maury was a good decision because it improves safety exponentially but, in seven years of working in Alexandria and 13 years of work in other code enforcement departments, I have never seen a school closed to accomplish this type of construction,” he said.
MAYOR WILLIAM D. EUILLE, who had heard rumors about closing Maury temporarily, agreed with Dahlberg. “It is true that these types of projects are disruptive,” he said. “However, I would hope that the superintendent and the School Board would consider every other option before they close an entire school and move students. Moving them to one location is certainly preferable to moving them to various schools throughout the city, but it is still not a great option.
"In all of my work in construction and work with the District of Columbia school system in construction, I have very rarely seen anyone decide to close an entire school. You work to phase projects and accomplish as much work as possible during the summer months. This is not our decision. It is up to the School Board. We simply provide the construction dollars,” he said.
Cathy David, executive director of elementary education programs for the school system, has been involved in looking at various options for dealing with the construction project at Maury.
"We are considering many options but no decision has been made," she said. "The construction at Maury is much more involved than originally anticipated and cannot be dealt with through a school calendar.
"We are holding a meeting with a small group of Maury parents and members of the executive committee of Maury's PTA to discuss how to deal with these issues."
David said that "once we have gotten feedback from that group, we will hold a larger community meeting to discuss the matter. The goal is to select the option that is the least disruptive to the kids."
Wilkoff said that the matter would probably come to the Board in late February or early March.
“We are in the middle of our budget process now so it will probably be that long,” he said.