Washington, D.C., officials plan to lease a vacant school campus, which could pave the way for a charter school to take over a public school building for the first time in Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s five-year tenure.
The Washington Post reports that the city no longer needs the building that housed Ferebee-Hope Elementary School, which was shut down in 2013.
The announcement from the city comes as charter schools clamor for facilities. Advocates have blasted Bowser for holding on to empty campuses when charters could use them. Charter schools are responsible for securing their own buildings, and they often construct campuses or retrofit facilities that were not designed as schools.
“We’re grateful and we thank the mayor for doing this,” says Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. “We have always been troubled by the fact that there are empty school buildings, while there are charter schools that can’t find space or are forced to locate in warehouses or office buildings without proper amenities.”
Under federal law, charter schools in the Washington D.C. have the right to make the first offer on any surplus school campus the city owns. Preference is given to charter schools that are considered high-performing and financially sound.
If the city does not reach a deal with a charter school in six months, it can accept applications from other organizations that want to use Ferebee-Hope Elementary.
The empty school is connected to the Ferebee Hope Recreation Center, a community space with a pool that needs renovations.
The deputy mayor for education, Paul Kihn, says the city is looking for a tenant that would revamp the recreation center.
This is the first vacant schoolhouse that Bowser has released from the city’s inventory since taking office in 2015, but she has extended a few short-term leases with charter schools into long-term agreements.
Kihn says the city does not have many vacant school buildings that it would consider leasing. The city is interested in putting some empty schoolhouses to different uses, and other campuses serve as temporary space for students during renovations to existing campuses.
Forty charter schools are housed in former D.C. Public Schools buildings. Nine of those charters own their buildings, and the others have leases.