A look at a new Roosevelt: a long-overdue renovation

Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School

Theodore Roosevelt High School has been closed since 2013 to undergo a $136.1 million renovation that replaces the crumbling sections of the building, restores historic architecture, and expands the facilities and technology, all revolving around a new central atrium. It’s pretty impressive.

According to DC Public Schools (DCPS), the goal of the renovation is to make Roosevelt a “21st-century school” that provides “technology-enhanced classrooms and laboratories” and “create a high performance school that both conserves resources and creates an environment conducive to learning.” Lofty goals indeed.

Kyle Whitley, one of the program managers from the Department of General Services (DGS), which led the renovation project, provided tours of the new school to the community and was clearly proud to be showing off the work that had been accomplished.

Kyle Whitley, DGS program manager

I think what impressed me the most from everything I saw and heard about the renovation on the tour… was its impact on prior graduates.

“This is so different,” Lydia Hodges said a bit breathlessly as she looked into an empty classroom with a smile. A graduate from 1973, Ms. Hodges said, “It’s remarkable, its never looked like this.”

Stephanie Mills Trice and Anne Davis Cohen

Anne Davis Cohen (class of '66) and Stephanie Mills Trice, said they were very happy with seeing the changes to the school. Ms. Mills Trice, who was on the planning committee for the renovation, said she was really pleased with the inclusion of Sharpe Health School program into Roosevelt. 

I also spoke with a group of graduates from the class of 1971, who said they were really happy with the changes, though they felt they were long overdue. They talked about the problems that existed in the schools as far back as 1971, and the fact that the need to improve conditions were apparent for so long.  

Class of '71: Nancy Lucas, Tracey Patterson, Clif Grandy, Phyllis Thomas and Roger Green

“This renovation should have been completed before Wilson,” said Nancy Lucas. “Wilson’s design was based on Roosevelt, but,” she added, “Wilson is west of the park.” 

Clif Grandy said prior Mayor Adrian Fenty went to Wilson, so perhaps that’s why that school was renovated before Roosevelt. Ultimately, they left the tour happy with what they saw, and posed for photos in front of the school.

The renovated entrance

Along with the massive renovations, DGS says that they worked to maintain many of the historic features of the 1932 school. The main entrance, which features sweeping staircases from 13th Street up to a classic flag pole and marble foyer, all have been refurbished and the school plans to reopen the main entrance.

With quotes by Theodore Roosevelt adorning the walls, the entrance features a table in the center that will soon host a new bronze bust of the former president. DGS plans to unveil a 13 foot bronze statue of Roosevelt on a rearing horse out front of the school in May of 2016.

The central atrium, designed to be the school's hub.

The old center of the school as been completely removed, and now is the home of a massive central atrium home to tables and chairs on the ground floor, along with areas for students to gather along the balconies. 

Also on the ground floor of the atrium are specialized areas and classrooms for Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, a School Store and Career Services and the entrance into the new cafeteria. Along the walls of the atrium are bright orange sound baffles that feature the map of the Earth, sliced up to fit on each long baffle. On the reverse side of the baffles are quotes and words of encouragement. 

And above the atrium is a photosensitive glass roof that brings in natural light and darkens to shade the atrium from excessive sunlight, with the large, newly rebuilt cupola dominating the view. 

The renovated cupola, over the photo-reactive glass.

Where possible, the renovation kept features like the original marble and arches in the hallway outside the amphitheater. And inside the theater, well, it’s gorgeous. 

The renovated theater is beautiful.

Click-through the images below to see the theater.

With a nod to the past, DGS left a piece of graffiti on the wall, high above the theater stage: “Lucy ’68.”

An old piece of graffiti left at the back of the stage, up by the ceiling...

“That was my friend who wrote that,” said Cheryle Newton-Hayman, class of 1969, looking up at the stage wall with a grin on her face. “Her name was Arlene Lucy Jackson, and she lived up near 7th and Gallatin.”

Rick and Cheryle Newton-Hayman

Ms. Newton-Hayman and her husband, Rick, are both 1969 graduates from Roosevelt. Ms. Newton-Hayman said her parents sent 16 children to Roosevelt, with the first graduating in 1959 and the last child graduating in 1984.

During the construction, crews exposed two large frescos that had been covered for more than 80 years. Painted in 1934 by Nelson Rosenberg, a 26-year old artist and funded by the New Deal public works initiative, the frescos offer a play on movies and fun (“Adolescent America”), along with science and industry (“American Panorama”). The frescos were restored and will be hung in the area outside the entrance, overlooking the atrium.

Classroom at Roosevelt

The school is filled with modern classrooms housing new tables, chairs and integrated technology like smartboards, and wide windows. New science labs are sprinkled around the building, and artwork, picked by the current generation of Roosevelt students, adorns the walls around the school.

A new Sensory Room and special classroom for special needs students looks amazing, and shows the focus DCPS has on meeting the needs of a diverse student body who need Occupational Therapy. There will be a new Medical Center, offering x-rays and dental care, along with a daycare center.

The gym with the opened roofline and new bleachers.

The original gym structure was saved, but also underwent renovations, including removing the classrooms above the basketball court to open the space and put in more bleachers. The artwork around the gym were picked by students, and are actually sound boards is designed to keep the space from echoing.

I ran into Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, who also toured the school and was impressed with what he saw. 

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd with Heather Schneider.

"I’m very proud of the renovation that the Department of General Services and DCPS has done to this school. I think there is a lot of optimism in Ward 4 and the community that this is going to be a real viable option for Ward 4 families and for people all around the city," Todd said. "Quite frankly, the city is counting on Roosevelt to be successful, and we’re going to put a lot of resources into this school to make sure that it is.”

It’s certainly an inspiring renovation of a 84-year old school designed to accommodate 1,100 students. What the future holds for Roosevelt, however, is not as certain. With redrawn boundary lines and a middle school that is falling apart, Roosevelt doesn’t have the same number of neighborhood children designated to attend as it once had. Those changes to boundaries had Powell Elementary graduates going to Columbia Heights for middle school, not MacFarland. 

An upcoming renovation of MacFarland, with a ribbon-cutting set for 2018, and upcoming changes to boundaries, will hopefully give Roosevelt, and the Petworth neighborhood, better options for keeping children walking to world-class educational facilities, on this side of the park.

According to a flyer at the open house, there is another opportunity to tour the school on Wednesday, February 10th at 6pm. (See the flyers - one | two - and a letter from the planning principal Aqueelha James.)

According to DGS, teachers should be in the school by June, and the school will be open by this August.

See a large gallery of photos of the school below:

Correction: MacFarland is set to be the inbound for Powell -- but it will soon be renovated. The question that remains is how charter schools and the lottery will continue to affect the ability of Roosevelt to woo back the parents and students who left for Deal or Wilson, and how the boundaries will continue to shape student populations. (h/t Josh)