The vacant Crummell School
The vacant Crummell School

In one of the most successful recent triumphs of civic activism over city plans, Ivy City residents persuaded a judge in December 2012 to prevent the District from turning a former school parking lot in the neighborhood into a major bus parking depot—-temporarily. The judge issued a preliminary injunction against the use of the lot at the shuttered Alexander Crummell Elementary School as parking for charter and tour buses before the renovation of Union Station allows the buses to park there. The city, the judge found, had not consulted appropriately with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission or conducted the property environmental screening—-a concern of residents who worried about the exhaust fumes from the buses. But the case has yet to be fully resolved, and the next hearing in a long string of them is scheduled for Aug. 29.

So Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh decided to take her own action to preempt the possible use of the lot for bus parking. As part of the D.C. Council’s budget—-Mayor Vince Gray‘s veto of which the Council is likely to override today—-the Committee on Transportation and the Environment chairwoman succeeded in inserting a provision that would transform the vacant school building into a community center. The budget item, which has largely escaped notice, appropriates $1.925 million in capital funding to plan the community center in the coming fiscal year, and $7 million to build it in 2016.

Cheh thinks the community center will be a benefit to the neighborhood that currently lacks one, although the Trinidad and Brentwood recreation centers are nearby. But perhaps more importantly, she expects it to scuttle any plans the city may have to pursue the bus parking lot, since the school building would have served as a rest station for the bus drivers, with restrooms and a lounge.

“I thought I would eliminate the prospect of its use in that way and at the same time provide an amenity to the community,” Cheh says. “The idea that they had for that as a bus parking depot was so terrible.”

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has yet to return a call for comment.

Update: The office of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, in whose ward the building is located, notes that the planned conversion of the school into a community center was assisted by the transfer of funds from the McDuffie-chaired Committee on Government Operations to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment as part of a broader exchange between the two committees, and that McDuffie played a role in planning the move.

Photo by Lydia DePillis