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New Dunbar High School on track for next fall

The 'Armory' will become the heart of the building

Dunbar SHS' new gym

The new building will emphasize natural light

Dunbar Senior High School

The site plan for Dunbar Senior High School

Students will be attending classes in the new Dunbar High School this fall. The new school construction, which began in November of 2011, will be completed by August 2013, says Darrell Pressley, public affairs specialist the Office of Government Affairs and Communications in the Department of General Services.

The new 283,000-square-foot facility is being built on top of where the old athletic field stood and will accommodate 1,100 students in 40 classrooms.

“This is an extraordinary modernization project for the Department of General Services (DGS) and the Paul Laurence Dunbar community,” says Brian J. Hanlon, Department of General Services Director. “Dunbar High School is the second high school DGS is building from the ground up, and we believe that the new Dunbar will be another example of the wave of the future for fully modernized schools in the District. It is also exciting to note that the design for the new Dunbar honors the school’s traditions and its distinguished history.”

The athletic field will be reconstructed where the old school building stands now and after the new building is operational. By building the new school on the old athletic field, the students did not have to attend classes in trailers during the construction period, but it means that the new athletic area will have to be rebuilt after the school is finished. New bleachers for 1,600 spectators, new running tracks, a new football field, press box and field lighting are all included in the new athletic area, which will be ready for use by June 2014.

Inside the new school, students will have new innovative spaces that will make the old school look archaic. Spaces like a new video production room, robotics labs and corresponding fabrication rooms will help spark interest in students and make it easier for them to create their projects.

The new school will also have a four-story academy wing containing a museum, kitchen and cafeteria, library and media center, a health clinic as well as a dental suite, auditorium and theater space, gymnasium and swimming pool, a student services center, and a child-care center. There will be a parking garage for 55 cars as well as an administrative wing with offices and meeting rooms on each floor.

The LEED Platinum-certified school will also have a solar PV panel array and a geothermal system. Even going to the bathroom at the school will be more energy-efficient at the new high school with water efficient fixtures and rain-water harvested for use within the school.

With an open classroom configuration and other structural designs that made it hard to supervise and control the students—along with very inefficient energy systems—the old school was found to be very undesirable and outdated. The new building is designed to maximize natural light—something severely missing in the old, massive, concrete school—and create classrooms conducive to learning and teaching.  

“The design of the new school makes it much easier to operate the academic wing independent of the other areas of the school such as the gym or the theater,” writes Pressley in an email interview. “Students will enjoy a healthier atmosphere that will enhance their experiences not only in the classrooms but throughout the whole school. The new school will also give students the opportunity to get a peek into a college-like environment.”

Read more articles by Lisa Spinelli.

Lisa Spinelli is Elevation DC's development editor as well as a freelance journalist, copy editor and mother of two. After receiving her Master of Science in print journalism from Columbia University in 2004, Lisa worked across the country and in Italy as a journalist, editor and Web editor. Her website LisaSpinelli.com has links to a smattering of her published clips.
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