Back in September, I broke the news that the District was offering up downtown’s Franklin School for development again. This erstwhile adult education school was a homeless shelter for years, until the city shut it down in September 2008. Charter schools first got a shot at moving into the building. But their plans were deemed “not viable,” according to city spokesman Sean Madigan.
And so it is: Franklin sits empty, waiting for reinvigoration, waiting for a purpose, waiting for…students again? Are we naturally coming full circle here?
Cary Silverman sure seems to hope so. Yesterday, he posted a lengthy piece on his blog about all the options we should possibly be considering to return Franklin to an educational use. And then, he posted a poll—-seemingly beckoning people to agree with him in one form or another (although one can favor “another public use” or “private development.”)
Anyway, Silverman sees a few possible options: (1) A magnet high school, (2) an “innovative elementary/middle school program,” (3) community college, (4) a space for a D.C. semester college program, or (5) a charter school.
His second suggestion is the most interesting one to consider. “According to the Downtown BID, there are now about 3,000 apartments and 2,500 condos downtown…700 additional units are planned for the Old Convention Center site, just a few blocks from the Franklin School. While there may be few children in these buildings, if DC is going to have a sustainable and livable downtown, it will need high-quality schools in the area. Franklin may provide a location to fulfill this need,” Silverman writes.
For now, this idea sounds a little ridiculous—-hundreds of kids living downtown, having—-what else?—-Lafayette Square or Franklin Park as their local hangout spots to run around? This isn’t New York City, after all.
But dense urban living is what we’re driving toward as a society. And it isn’t actually so hard to imagine small families congregating downtown in 10 or 15 years. And then, where do the kids go to school, if their parents—-again not hard to imagine—-don’t own cars and can’t drive them across the city every morning.
And speaking of New York, that city has suffered from the lack of school space and poor demographic planning. Earlier this year, New York magazine published a lengthy story about the Department of Education running out of space to place Manhattan kindergartners in their neighborhood schools:
Earlier this month, a throng of parents and 5-year-olds stormed the limestone steps of City Hall. Tiny towheads clutched black balloons and nagging placards: WE’RE STILL WAITING! They were waiting for kindergarten seats in hallowed District 2, a middle-class magnet that sprawls from York Avenue to the Battery. The children were earnest and adorable—and, to Mayor Bloomberg’s chagrin, there were entirely too many of them.
Based on numbers from the Department of Education (DOE), District 2 is 96 percent full in aggregate, and whole neighborhoods are overrun. On the Upper East Side alone, a thousand extra children are crammed into seven elementary schools. And now hundreds of rising kindergartners had been told that there simply wasn’t room in their zoned schools for the fall: 152 on the Upper East Side, 90 in the Village, dozens more downtown—plus a hundred or so refugees from Yorkville’s P.S. 151, still needing a home after their building was condemned in 2001.
Though the squeeze seemed sudden, it wasn’t sparked by the recession; the DOE had not been swarmed by downturned private-school families. (Girded by their own deep waiting lists, private schools can’t keep up with record demand; they harvest their 2,500 or so kindergartners, boom times or bust.) In reality, the public-school squeeze was a matter of demography. As Manhattan’s post-9/11 baby boom produced more and more youngsters in recent years, schools took more kindergarten sections than they’d been designed to hold. This just happened to be the year they ran out of extra rooms. “They knew this was coming,” says Andrew Beveridge, a Queens College demographer. “But they’re acting like, ‘Oh, Jesus, this is a surprise.’ ”
Image by NCinDC, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.