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The Issue: A former elementary school building seeking new residents has hooked a fish—and the local Truxton Circle/Bates community wants to throw it back. About two years ago, residents met to determine what should go into the empty J.F Cook Elementary School on P Street NW. Since then, they have tried to woo the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and an arts center—but Mayor Adrian M. Fenty approved the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) instead. LAYC has approached the community several times in the past—most recently in a meeting this past Monday—offering to turn the building into a voluntary youth-training program with dormitories for about 50 residents. But where the Mayor sees a halibut, the community sees a red herring—residents argue that they had no part in the selection process, and don’t see how the new social service will benefit the community.

Cast Again Please: According to a Bloomingdale blogger, the community climate at the meeting on Monday—which Mayor Fenty attended—was emotional and discouraging: Advisory neighborhood commissioner Anita Bonds told City Desk: “The neighbors feel they were not included at all in the decision-making process.” She also fears that the school won’t have a positive impact on the neighborhood: “Kids trying to establish themselves in new neighborhoods tend to generate friction.”  Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) president Jim Berry took that a step further, saying at the meeting that the school will “push back neighborhood retail development 30 years.”

It’s a Catch: Mai Fernandez, LAYC’s legal and strategic director said at the meeting that the program has been operating in Columbia Heights for 35 years, and they have successfully provided job training and diplomas for youth between the ages of 16-24. In terms of addressing the community’s fears about the negative impact on the neighborhood, she promised 24-hour security, and both she and Mayor Fenty defended other program’s success at meshing with the neighborhood.

Next Step: BACA has put together a resolution opposing the school, and there will likely be another community meeting with LAYC. According to the Bloomingdale blogger, Mayor Fenty promised to have his staff walk through the community in the next 30 days to address issues such as drug dealing and homelessness. Bonds says that if the school is already a done deal, “there will definitely be some trials and tribulations getting used to the new neighborhood.”

Photo of Youth Center by Elizabeth Thomsen, Creative Commons License