Out With the Old - Again

Famous Dunbar High to shed its ugly building - at last

By Tom Sherwood
|  Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010  |  Updated 7:49 PM EDT
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Mayor-Elect <a title=Vincent Gray's alma mater gets some TLC." />

Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray's alma mater gets some TLC.

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The building that currently houses Dunbar High School students in the District is an insult to those students.

But that’s about to change.
 
Dunbar, a storied high school that dates back to the early 1900s, was the District’s first high school for African-American students.
 
It’s grand, classic school building was similar to those of Cardozo and Eastern, which still stand.

 

“And it really had an atmosphere that was very conducive to learning,” Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, who graduated in 1959, said on Tuesday.
 
But the proud Dunbar building was torn down in the 1970s -- a hideous, modern "brutalist” building constructed in its place. “Brutalist” architecture is the type that overwhelms you with concrete, too few windows and cold exteriors.
 
“It’s nothing short of a prison,” said Ward 5 Council member Harry “Tommy” Thomas.
 
The classic building – named after poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar -- can never be brought back, but the city is doing the next best thing.
 
Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray and schools construction chief Allen Lew announced they are spending $100 million to build a new Dunbar on the site of the original school near N Street and New Jersey Avenue in Northwest.
 
The current, outdated school can serve 700 students. The new, more modern school with glass walls and a welcoming design, will accommodate 1,200 students.
 
The change is a welcome event for the surrounding neighborhood, which is undergoing something of a renewal itself after a few decades of neglect and crime.
 
Current Dunbar students looked with amazement at the new plans, with some saying they wish they had been born later so they could go to the new school.
 
The school design will be final in January. Then there will be some neighborhood hearings to get feedback on the design and construction should start as early as summer.
 
Dunbar is not the only hideous school the city has targeted for replacement. In Northeast, another brutalist school building -- H.D. Woodson -- also is being replaced with a modern school facility that respects the students who go there and the teachers who teach there.

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