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The CurrenT

Paul Public Charter School ready to expand By ELIZABETH WIENER Current Staff Writer

With a little help from the D.C. Council, Paul Public Charter School is one step closer to expanding its “Tier 1� middle school to include a 400-student high school. The council last week approved legislation extending Paul’s lease on its Brightwood campus, which will help the school win financing for an ambitious $18.9 million construction project. The emergency bill gives the high-performing charter school the long-term lease needed to assure the lenders that would finance a new high school building for Paul, said at-large Council member David Catania. And the project comes “at no cost to the District,� Catania emphasized. Proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray at Paul’s request, the legislation also requires the school to include local and minority businesses in the construction project at 5800 8th St., formerly home to a struggling public school, Paul Junior High. Paul’s history is unusual. The red brick schoolhouse opened as a public junior high in 1930. But in the mid-1990s, then-principal Cecile Middleton became “increasingly

frustrated with the public school bureaucracy, and tired of waiting for the system to change,� according to a narrative on the school’s website. The concept of charter schools — run autonomously but using public funds and charging no tuition — was still new at the time. But after a two-year struggle that galvanized administrators, teachers and parents, Paul became a charter in 2000, the first D.C. public school to convert to charter status. The school now serves 455 students in grades six through nine. Many graduates do well, moving on to well-reputed public high schools. But Paul’s leaders lamented that too many District children are still stuck in poor-performing high schools. The idea of adding a high school — both to provide continuity for current students and to provide more seats for others, was debated for several years. “Let’s rise to the occasion and respond to this glaring need,� says the narrative explaining the expansion project. As planned, the new college prep high school will eventually accommodate 400 students and focus on global services, including study abroad. Grade nine was added this year in the original building, and officials hope to add one grade

a year. The class of 2016, school leaders confidently predict, will all be headed to college. When completed, there will be two separate buildings on the campus. The existing building, with some renovations, will continue to house the middle school, and a new structure for the high school will be built on its south side, designed to meet Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design standards. The surrounding community is largely supportive of Paul’s expansion, according to Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser — but with a tinge of regret. In remarks before the council’s vote, Bowser said Paul and been a “good neighbor� in Brightwood. But she emphasized the need for better public school options in the ward, and said she would like to ensure that charter schools locating there serve neighborhood children as well. D. Kamili Anderson, who represents Ward 4 on the State Board of Education, said Paul has an “excellent program.� But she urged the city to direct more resources to public high schools like Roosevelt and Coolidge, both in line for modernization but so under-capacity that officials are now proposing to modernize only parts of each building.

Pepco may relocate Wisconsin Ave. substation By BRADY HOLT Current Staff Writer

Pepco is searching for an alternative location for its Friendship Heights substation, responding to community pressure to free up its prime real estate in the 5200 block of Wisconsin Avenue, according to company officials. The substation has been at 5210 Wisconsin since the 1930s, converting electricity from high-voltage transmission lines into smaller “feedersâ€? that run along neighborhood streets. Some residents were already unhappy about the lowscale industrial use at the site, and became more upset when Pepco bought an adjacent parcel — the Classic Motors dealership — next door in 2011, with plans to expand the substation onto that property. These residents said they would favor vibrant mixed-use development that would improve the block’s appearance and take advantage of the site’s convenience to Metro. At last Thursday’s meeting of the Tenleytown/ Friendship Heights advisory neighborhood commission, Pepco officials mentioned that ongoing power line work in the community would let the company shift demand to other substations. “We’re decreasing the capacity on that substation, and we’re planning to replace it ‌ at some other space,â€? the company’s Chris Taylor said at the meeting. In an email to The Current, Pepco spokesperson Courtney Nogas wrote that she couldn’t say what sites were under consideration. Although the company is open to moving to nearby locations, Nogas emphasized that the car dealer site — which Pepco spent $14.8 million to purchase — is still the ideal spot. Not only is it located where Pepco foresees increased demand for electricity, she wrote, but moving equipment elsewhere could also present logistical difficulties. “While Pepco believes that the Wisconsin Ave. parcel is an ideal location for the new substation, we are sensitive to the fact that there is a desire in the community to have new retail development along Wisconsin

Ave.,� wrote Nogas. “We continue to explore the feasibility of siting the substation in alternate locations within the Friendship Heights community.� However, Nogas added that relocation is not a done deal: “If an alternative location is not identified in the coming weeks, Pepco will need to move forward with construction planning at the originally purchased site to ensure that electric service to residents is not compromised.� Neighborhood commissioner Jonathan Bender, whose single-member district includes the site, wrote in an email that he has had talks with Pepco and Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh about ways to minimize the utility’s impact on Wisconsin Avenue. In those meetings, he wrote, Pepco said it could try to locate the substation on the rear of its property, behind low-rise retail. “I and others said that this would certainly be an improvement over a substation at streetfront, but urged PEPCO to see whether they could find another site entirely,� Bender wrote. “So I was greatly encouraged to hear that PEPCO has moved from ‘looking for another site is a possibility, but unlikely’ to ‘we are looking for another site.’� According to Nogas, Pepco hopes to have its new substation in place — either built at the current Wisconsin Avenue site or elsewhere — by the end of 2016. Current Pepco work in the Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase area — with higher-capacity power lines being installed on new, taller poles — began in April and will wrap up early next year, company officials said at the neighborhood commission meeting. This power line project could require dozens of trees to be “impacted,� some of which would likely be removed, the officials said. The company is working with the District’s Urban Forestry Administration to coordinate which trees can be trimmed or cut down, and how Pepco would need to replace them. Pepco bought the car dealership site at 5220 Wisconsin Ave. from developer Akridge, which had won D.C. approval for a high-rise residential project but was not able to bring the project to fruition.

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