It was a night of objections and tough question from the audience Thursday evening as the DC Department of General Services (DGS) team provided the latest project update on the planned Shepherd Park Community Center. A large number of associates from DGS, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), the architect and the construction team were on hand to try to answer the audience’s questions. It didn’t always go smoothly.
Shepherd Park Community Center Project Overview
The Shepherd Park Community Center Project is the culmination of years of phased construction work to modernize Shepherd Elementary School. The joint Department of Parks and Recreation / DC Public Schools approach is the result of a compromise between city Councilmembers. After CM David Grosso prevented additional funding for the completion of the Shepherd ES phased modernization in the FY2018 budget, Councilmember Brandon Todd negotiated with CM Mary Cheh and others to secure $13.4M in funding for this final phase of the project.
The benefits to the school include the addition of a regulation-sized gymnasium, a full cooking kitchen and appropriately-sized cafeteria space. The Shepherd Elementary community has been advocating for these improvements for years. Watch this video of Shepherd students testifying at the DC Council on the need for a gym back in the spring of 2017: Rockstar Shepherd Students Dazzle at DC Council Hearing.
The goal of this project is to ensure that the children in this community have access to the same opportunities and amenities as students at other recently modernized schools around the city. Currently, the Shepherd ES girls and boys basketball teams cannot host games in their own gym because it is too small. The small cafeteria space requires four lunch shifts throughout the day which interrupts the educational program.
Visit the official Department of General Services (DGS) website for this project to learn more. Or, you can review our previous coverage here.
Design and Construction Update
The meeting was led by Mr. Brent Sisco, the Director of Capital Projects and Planning and Design at DPR and Mr. John Stokes, Interim Associate Director of External Affairs at DGS. They shared two short PowerPoint presentations and took questions from audience for the majority of the allotted time.
Lack of communication was a recurring theme throughout the session. A group of neighbors on Jonquil Street stated that this meeting was the first they had heard of the project. They are very concerned about quality of life issues like additional traffic, trash and parking. Others were concerned about people from outside of the city using DC taxpayer-funded facilities.
A decision about the material that will be used for the exterior of the building hasn’t been finalized yet. The architecture team is investigating an aluminum material that is “evocative” of the school’s brick color. Mr. David Bell of Bell Architects said, “(This fabric) is a more modern material that is higher performing but gives the same color range. It is durable and allows us to handle some of the energy code requirements we have to deal with today.”
Some neighbors questioned how this aluminum material would fit with the architecture of the surrounding residential structures, which are mostly brick-veneer colonial-style homes. There were also concerns about how it would stand up to strong sunlight that bakes the west side of the site in the afternoons.
Goodbye, Rooftop Play Space
Some of the original feasibility illustrations for the addition included a tantalizing roof-top play space over the new cafeteria. The parents of the pre-kindergarten students were especially excited about the prospect of having a play space close to the children’s classroom.
Unfortunately, budget reality has taken this concept off the board. Mr. Sisco said that the cost to install supports strong enough for a play space exceeded $300,000 and there just wasn’t room in the budget to make it happen now or plan for it in a future iteration.
As currently designed, that roof will hold vegetative material to fulfill the city’s storm water management requirements.
Several of the immediate neighbors on Jonquil Street NW are particularly concerned about the trash dumpster location and how it will be incorporated into the new design. The existing dumpster site is nothing more than a concrete pad with a flimsy mesh and chain-link fence around it. The gate has a tendency to swing open and allow papers and trash to blow all over the block.
Surprisingly, the team did not have a good answer for how they plan to address this. While is is unlikely that it can be moved to a different location, a better design and more solid building material might be able to mitigate some of the problems that neighbors have experienced.
Rodent Control Plan
Field mice and other wildlife are familiar sights around the Shepherd ES site. The MCN Build representatives stated that the construction plan includes a robust rodent control program. Boxes will be placed at strategic locations around the site. The traps will be monitored and cleaned bi-weekly. Past experience at other renovations showed that that frequency of cleanup was more than adequate to control the problem.
The construction location requires changes to the current playground in the rear of the school. To make way for the excavation and construction of the gymnasium, the existing “big kid” playground equipment will be moved approximately 15 to 20 feet north of its current position. A secure fence will be erected to separate the students from the construction area.
In response to previous community feedback, Mr. Sisco announced that there would be changes to the permitting process for the Shepherd Lower Field. Beginning in September, the school will have full access rights to the field from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm every day. The idea is to replace the play space lost to the construction area.
The field will have unpermitted access from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. This means that the general public will have access to the field at this time. That includes Shepherd’s Star Achievers aftercare program. Organized groups like DC Stoddert Soccer will not be able to claim exclusive, permitted use of the field until 5:30 pm.
In addition, the team is considering removing the vines and brush along the Kalmia Road NW side of the playground and setting up portable basketball hoops there.
In the final slide of the evening, the team revealed the targeted groundbreaking date for the project. This ceremony is scheduled for September 6th at 3:00 pm. Mayor Bowser plans to be in attendance.
Despite previous assurances, excavation did not begin this summer as originally hoped. Now, construction of the addition will begin this fall and continue through the end of the summer of 2020. The facility should be completed in time for the beginning of the 2020/2021 school year.