Several years ago, Murch was scheduled to begin renovation in the 2014-2015 school year, but that timeline was delayed in the DC budget process in the spring of 2013. In 2014, the Murch community mounted a campaign to educate city leaders about the overwhelming need for Murch to be renovated as quickly as possible. As a result, in April 2014, the DC Council approved increased funding for the project, from $32.4 million to $43.7 million. Of note, the Council increased funding for Fiscal Year 2015 (which began in October 2014), with the hope that work on the renovation could begin as early as the summer of 2015.
The Department of General Services (DGS), working in conjunction with DCPS, is the agency responsible for planning and managing school modernizations. In response to the Murch community’s outreach last spring, DGS Director Brian Hanlon appointed a project manager to begin working with the Murch School Improvement Team (SIT). The specific needs of the school were outlined in a document to be used in hiring a design architect. To meet the modern needs of a school and the projected population of the school, a renovated Murch will need approximately twice the building space that it currently has in the main building and the Kaufman Wing.
Over the past summer, DGS used their own funds to conduct a feasibility study of the Murch project. This step is used only in more complicated projects. For the feasibility study, an architecture firm was hired to survey the property, review the educational specifications, and determine if there were design concepts that would meet the needs of the school within the limitations of the space and the restrictions that may be imposed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the DC Historic Preservation Review Board. NPS owns one-third of the property on which Murch is situated, including the hill, the area with the playground equipment, and the space occupied by the Kaufman Wing. NPS has indicated that they will not allow any structures to be built on that land. Staff from the DC Historic Preservation Office has told DGS that they likely would object to any change to the original exterior structure of the building, because Murch is one of the only schools of that era that has not been altered over the years. The feasibility study was completed in September and resulted in several design concepts. The Murch SIT provided DGS with feedback on those concepts, and the school was told that a Request for Proposals (RFP) to design the renovation would be issued in October.
In mid-November, the SIT requested a meeting with DGS because the RFP had not been issued and the SIT had not received any updates. On December 2, the DGS project manager met with the SIT and informed the group that, based on the feasibility study, the project cost is now estimated to be $65-70 million. This is a significant enough difference that DGS saw two options for moving forward. The first option would be to request additional funding for the project in the upcoming budget process, which runs from January through late April. Once adequate funding is secured, an RFP would be issued, the project could move forward, and the entire renovation conducted at one time. The second option would be to issue an RFP in January for a phased renovation project, with the hope that over time the necessary funding for the complete project would be provided. Either way, planning would not be complete to allow any work to be done prior to the fall of 2015, at the earliest, and likely not until the summer of 2016.
It is not clear to the SIT members why planning for the project should be delayed or the scope of the project changed. In response to this news, the HSA, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and ANC 3F all have requested that DGS Director Hanlon and DCPS Chancellor Henderson meet with the school community to explain their expectation for the Murch modernization project. We have not heard a response from DCPS, however, DGS Director Hanlon now has agreed to meet with the SIT on Tuesday, December 16 at 5 pm.
The HSA will continue to push city leaders to ensure that Murch is renovated as soon as possible and in a way that best serves the Murch community. We will continue to update the community on both the latest developments.