Colleen Cosgriff

Two blocks off of New York Avenue NE, boarded up and covered in vines, sits a century-old pride of Ivy City. The Alexander Crummell School was built in 1911 for African American children and was once the center of the neighborhood. The school was named for clergyman, teacher, and orator Alexander Crummell, who died in 1898. The school closed its doors in the early 1970s and has remained neglected since, as has Ivy City.

On June 29 Ivy City residents poured into the Bethesda Baptist Church for an “Our RFP” meeting regarding the school. From toddlers to Crummell School graduates, the room was filled with anticipation as Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie opened the meeting.

The Bowser Administration created Our RFP (Request for Proposals) to ensure that community voices are heard in development decisions. This was the second Our RFP meeting since the program’s inception. The first took place on June 13, for a parcel of land in Shaw. At that time, Director of Communications for the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) Joaquin McPeek told Street Sense that any future plans to develop Crummell School would have community input.

“We think about projects where we know that there is a significant amount of community interest. Granted, lots of projects have that. But we also look at what have been the previous attempts to do a project in that area,” said Brian Kenner, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “With [Crummell School], there’s just been a lot of back and forth between the previous administration and the community. We thought it was appropriate to come back to the community and really ask them for the first time what do they want to see at this site. Not what do we want to put in the site, but what they want to see.”

The Ivy City community has expressed their need of a recreation center for years, and opening one at Crummell School has been the residents’ dream for decades. During past administrations, that dream has been ignored by the District and even threatened by unwanted development plans. In 2012, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and activist group Empower DC have fought legal battles against former mayor Gray’s administration when they attempted to develop the school parking lot into a bus depot. The parking lot was never constructed, but both Empower DC and the ANC are still fighting for a community center in Ivy City.

“We’re trying to fix what has happened and I just want to thank you for your diligence in insisting that we look at this process again. So, as Councilmember McDuffie has already said, the Bowser administration will not put buses at the Crummell School,” Bowser said over applause from the Our RFP meeting’s attendees. “And so now we are starting the process over.”

Each table of attendees was tasked with brainstorming public space and commercial use ideas for the redevelopment of Crummell School and the parking lot adjacent to it.

Table 10 included Antonio Lewis, who has lived in Ivy City since he was seven. He is now in his late twenties and has a multitude of ideas for the school building. First and foremost was a community center.

“There’s nowhere around here where the kids can go play basketball or do afterschool homework,” Lewis said during his table’s discussion.

Job creation was also on Lewis’ mind. He is interested in a construction job when the development of Crummell begins. Lewis’ table also discussed the idea of creating jobs through a light industrial center.

Gaje Jones, also at Table 10, sees the building’s revitalization as a chance to engage the community artistically. He and Christopher Smith were in attendance representing Mousai House, which provides studio space, equipment and free music education for “underground artists.” As retail options, Smith and Jones recommended a performance venue similar to Busboys and Poets or an art store.

Everyone at the table agreed the redevelopment should honor Alexander Crummell with some sort of museum. Smith suggested a “walk of fame” to recognize Crummell and graduates of the school. They also recognized the community’s need for aftercare, tutoring, GED preparation, job training and family counseling services.Table members thought the parking lot adjacent to Crummell could be used for open green space: a dog park, playground, community garden or somewhere to hold solar panels.

When asked “what’s missing?” from Ivy City, Table 10’s lengthy list included: bus stop shelters, water fountains, trees, bike lanes, a sufficient amount of trash cans, and a homeless shelter and service center.

After the small group discussions ended, a representative from each of the 12 tables was allowed 30 seconds to share what their group came up with. It was obvious the Ivy City community has a common vision for their neighborhood. By the time Smith had his turn to summarize Table 10’s discussion, most ideas had already been stated by other groups.

The suggestions from each table were met with applause and cheers. One statement about honoring Alexander Crummell’s legacy brought forth the loudest cheers from the community.

“When it came to the commercial use for the space we said no commercial use. However, if there is going to be commercial use, we ask that it suit the community. There was a question about the historical element and what to do with the site, the idea is that Alexander Crummell, his legacy, should be reflected and whatever we do should be to uplift the community. And that might not include commercial uses,” Table 9’s representative stated.

Several graduates and former teachers of Crummell School were present at the meeting. PhilipS. Beacey was in the last graduating class from Crummell and strongly believes Crummell should be used as a community center, focusing on the area’s senior citizens and youth. “I want to say that it is wonderful that we having the opportunity because to Dr. Alexander Crummell, this is a dream. we’re putting together a dream to him.” said Remmetter Freeman, who also graduated from Crummell and later returned to teach there.

The meeting ran thirty minutes over schedule and did not end until 9pm, but both Mayor Bowser and Councilmember McDuffie stayed until the end. The next part of the Our RFP process is online participation from the community and those who were not able to attend in person. Then there will be a second Our RFP meeting in September and DMPED will most likely be issuing solicitations for developers in the fall, according to Deputy Mayor Kenner. He predicts there will be a development plan sometime in the first or second quarter of 2016.

Kathy Henderson, a Ward 5 ANC Commissioner, was on the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board when they unanimously voted to designate Crummell School historic. She remembers the unanimous vote  as a “truly beautiful day,” and is especially excited for the Our RFP process to be employed at Crummell School.  Henderson said she supported the legal action against plans to use the lot as a bus depot when historic designation was not enough to keep additional sources of air pollution out of Ivy City and the Crummell site.

“Too often, in communities that have been traditionally underserved, people get beaten down, they’re reluctant to speak up, they feel like ‘okay no one is going to listen to me anyway.’” Henderson said. “We didn’t get any of that today. That sentiment was not here. We saw seniors, children, everyone in between. People came and everyone participated.”