School Without Walls celebrates grand reopening

University President Steven Knapp and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty pose for photographers outside of the newly renovated School Without Walls at its reopening ceremony Thursday afternoon.
University President Steven Knapp and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty pose for photographers outside of the newly renovated School Without Walls at its reopening ceremony Thursday afternoon. Gabrielle Bluestone/Hatchet photographer

The newly renovated School Without Walls opened its doors Thursday with a grand reopening and ribbon cutting ceremony featuring D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and University President Steven Knapp.

The event drew teachers, students, community members and city officials, including D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee and D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans.

Knapp and Fenty both addressed the crowd before a tour of the new facility, proclaiming the renovations and the partnership between the University, the city and D.C. public schools. Fenty, who previously toured the building in April, has consistently expressed support for the renovation.

“All I have to say is ‘wow,’ ” Fenty said. “It’s one of the most amazing schools I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, great academics, a great facility, it’s going to be great for kids for generations.”

The crowd then toured the new building, which consists of the original school building structure, connected to a new airy, glass-walled building. The school will accommodate 440 students and features science labs, multipurpose rooms, and an open rooftop lounge area atop the original building.

“I think it’s very exciting and beautifully done. It’s been preserved, expanded and modernized,” Knapp said while touring the second floor of the building. “I’m glad to have this longstanding partnership with D.C. public schools.”

The interior of the building features a yellow-and-white color scheme, and the large plate glass windows of the addition allow for natural light to filter into the classrooms. The school will also feature wireless Internet for students and uses water- and energy-efficient appliances.

Despite the modern additions, Allen Lew, the executive director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, said the biggest goal of the project was to retain the historic significance of the building.

“We pushed the envelope in terms of quality, quality finishes, quality restoration,” Lew said. “We respected and took tender loving care to keep the historic features of the building, from the literally century-old wood floors to the original school bell.”

For Chris Jahrling, general manager of Turner Construction, the company that carried out the renovations, the best part of the project was seeing the students return to the school.

“The most important part of this project is always opening day. To see the students walk up the stairs and to see the looks on their faces – as builders that’s always the most rewarding,” Jahrling said. “A challenging job like this has a lot of reasons not to succeed but there’s always one good reason to succeed and that’s to get the students back in their classrooms.”

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