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High-tech high delay

Lack of funding, focus stall project

(Published July 2, 2001)


Staff Writer

The much-heralded plan to re-open McKinley Tech as the city’s high-tech high school in 2002 has been delayed at least a year and maybe longer due to a lack of funds and what some characterize as a too-limited vision that has made it almost impossible to secure the required corporate backing.

D.C. Public Schools officials are pushing ahead to open the Technology High School at McKinley by fall of 2003 and say they expect to have the school’s principal on board by this fall as the project manager and fundraiser.

But others involved with the project fear that focusing on opening an expensive high school for only 800 to 1,000 students without integrating the sprawling 23-acre campus at Second and T streets NE into the surrounding residential community and the growing nearby high-tech business corridor will doom the effort.

"If you focus on the high school itself, you’ll never get the money that you need to do it," said Archie Prioleau, a McKinley graduate who created the vision of a "McKinley Project" with Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange when Mayor Anthony Williams was still trying to gather support for a citywide high-tech high school located east of the Anacostia River.

Estimates of how much money is needed for the project range anywhere from $40 million to $80 million, with everyone who was contacted for this story hesitating to put a price tag on something that apparently hasn’t yet been fully defined.

The mayor originally budgeted $20 million of public funds as seed money for the McKinley project, with an additional $5 million earmarked for a companion high-tech program at Ballou Senior High School in Ward 8.

The first and only large corporate contribution toward the project, $100,000 from Sprint Communications, was actually solicited by Prioleau through his nonprofit Foundation for Educational Innovation. Prioleau said part of the Sprint donation was used to create an eight-page color brochure to explain the high school project and the rest remains earmarked for later use on the McKinley project.

Orange, Prioleau and some neighbors of the school say they want the high school to serve as an "anchor" that integrates the surrounding community into the larger campus. They talk about including a community college, which the District lacks, on the campus to help train adult workers for local employment as well as offer continuing higher education to high school graduates who, for whatever reason, don’t go on to attend a four-year institution.

"I am 100 percent sure the mayor is evaluating the idea of what else can be done at that campus, but I don’t think he’s reached any conclusion," Prioleau said.

The current use of the adjacent former Langley Junior High School by Hyde Public Charter School has been termed "problematic" by many involved with the McKinley project’s planning. Some see the charter school as incompatible competition for the McKinley project. Others note that the control board handed control of the Langley building’s disposition as a surplus school to Mayor Williams and they have been awaiting some signal from the mayor about how he would like to see the facility included in the McKinley plan.

Prioleau said he believes both Mayor Williams and D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance support a broader concept for the campus than simply creating a high school, and he said he’s not particularly worried about missing the original 2002 deadline for opening the school.

"Two-thousand two was a date picked to move the project forward...but that was before the planning was done," he said. "This project in its sheer scope could not be rushed to make a 2002 deadline. A building that’s 290,000 square feet cannot be physically redone in 18 months."

But Edgewood Civic Association President Debbie Smith, also an advisory neighborhood commissioner who has been deeply concerned about maintaining neighborhood involvement with McKinley’s rebirth, expressed concern that the project is stalling due to a lack of recent attention from the mayor.

"The mayor wanted this on his platform for 2002 for his re-election, but now we’re talking about 2003 or 2004 or 2005 and he’s dropped totally out of the picture," Smith said somewhat bitterly. "He is nowhere in sight on the project. The mayor put this out, the mayor said this is what he wants to do and he just dropped it."

Joan Logue-Kinder, the mayor’s new communications director, said Smith’s charge that the mayor has dropped his support for the project "is absolutely not true. If there’s one thing he’s adamant about, it’s schools and kids," she said. But Logue-Kinder said she was unable to get any comment from the mayor or any mayoral aides familiar with the project’s details.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator