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Repairs sorely needed in many D.C. schools

(Published March 22, 1999)



Staff Writers

Students at some D.C. public schools contend daily with restrooms that smell, stalls without doors and toilets that donít flush.

But the fifth-floor ladies room at 825 North Capitol St. stays sparkling clean. Itís the bathroom frequented by members and staff of the D.C. Board of Education. Itís a beauty salon of sorts, with complimentary hairspray, lotion, powder and creams arranged on the counter surrounded by inspirational sayings and poems.

Perhaps this is the model for the $25 million in restroom repairs budgeted in Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí fiscal 2000 budget. But itís hard to tell. DCPS officials have been unable for weeks to produce a list of schools where restrooms need work. And even though Congress mandated two years ago that the schools come up with a facilities plan, one has yet to be adopted.

A 10-year $1 billion plan to modernize D.C. public schools was created by the 21st Century School Fund two years ago. But school administrators have not accepted it nor created a plan, said fund director Sarah Woodhead.

Community meetings to gather input for a long-range plan are expected to be held this spring.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans restroom repairs at six schools this fiscal year. Anacostia and Jefferson high schools, Paul Junior High School, and Bowen and Peabody elementary schools will get new fixtures including toilets, partitions and ventilation systems.

But some schools that have had longstanding restroom problems Ė such as Walker Jones Elementary School in Ward 2, built in 1950 Ė arenít on the Army Corpsí list. Parents of some Walker Jones students recently complained at a public meeting that theyíre still waiting for repairs that were promised long ago.

Walker Jones is on a waiting list, said D.C. Public Schoolís Communications Director Denise Tann. A contractor should pick up the work order soon, she said.

The sump pump outside the school has been replaced, she said, so dirty water no longer seeps into the cafeteria and a gate has been put up around the playground. But restrooms on the first and second floors of the school remain without stall doors, a recent visit showed.

There is a link between the condition of school facilities and student behavior, said Francesca Dixon, vice president of the schoolís Parent-Teacher-Student Association. "Itís not just the bathrooms," she said.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator