Mayor Bowser released her Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal on Thursday, March 24. The budget proposal includes $78 million for the Murch modernization, which still leaves the project $10 million underfunded for the design that was developed last year. In an email to Murch HSA and SIT leaders, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles stated, “I have carefully reviewed this matter and feel confident that the planned facility will be one that provides a great physical environment.” A letter from Deputy Mayor Niles to the Murch community can be viewed here. The Murch SIT and HSA responded to express disappointment in the decision, stating, “We have heard repeated promises from you, the Mayor, DCPS, and DGS that the District will build a great school for Murch with the current budget. But without enough space, they have not shown us that it is possible.”
The Mayor chose not to fully fund the cost of the original project, in spite of making a commitment to invest in school modernizations and adding $220 million to the school modernization budget. You can read more about Mayor Bowser’s proposal to substantially increase funding for school modernizations in The Washington Post coverage from March 25.
At a Community Meeting on the Murch Modernization held Thursday evening, DCPS and DGS staff told the Murch community that they were proceeding with plans to redesign the building to fit the $78 million budget. According to agency officials, they would need to have a commitment of additional funds for the project by May 1, 2016 in order to return to the original plans and still complete the project on time. As soon as DCPS and DGS post a copy of their presentation from the Community Meeting, we will make that available here. The current, redesigned plans for Murch can be seen here, along with a comparison to the original design from October 2015.
Councilmember Mary Cheh told attendees at Thursday’s Community Meeting that she will continue to push for funds that will allow the project to proceed as planned last year (the October 2015 design). Cheh is asking the Bowser administration to find a way to fund the costs of swing space with funds separate from the capital funds allocated for the Murch modernization. Dr. Nathaniel Beers, Chief Operating Officer of DCPS, told the Murch SIT in February that the cost of the swing space would not come out of our construction budget.
Cheh also told the community that at a Council hearing on Tuesday, March 22, she secured commitments from DCPS and DGS to sit down with members of the Murch SIT and the builder to carefully review the estimates and plans for the original design. The goal of the meeting will look for true value engineering options that would not have significant negative impacts on school programming. That would allow the Council and the community to determine a more realistic estimate of the actual funding shortfall. Councilmember David Grosso, Chair of the Education Committee, also requested to participate in that meeting, “to make sure Murch is done right.”
Murch SIT Co-Chair Laura Kaiser and HSA Co-Presidents Maggie Gumbinner and Martha McIntosh testified at the Oversight Roundtable on DCPS school modernizations scheduled for this summer. The roundtable was a joint meeting of the Committee on Education and the Committee on Transportation & the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Cheh. DGS Director Christopher Weaver and DCPS Chief Operating Officer Dr. Nathaniel Beers testified at the hearing and faced many questions about the Murch project and the overall process of planning for school modernizations. The Murch community is very appreciative of the continued support and attention Councilmembers Cheh and Grosso have given to the Murch project. Video of the Council Roundtable is available on the DC Council website.
Unless and until additional funding is secured, DCPS and DGS will continue to seek regulatory approvals for the revised Murch plans. The DC Department of Transportation is scheduled to review the Reno Road curb cut and delivery entrance at an April 28 meeting. The Commission of Fine Arts and Historic Preservation Office will also be reviewing the project in April.