Old Congress Heights Rises to the Top

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There are many treasures that lie east of the Anacostia River. Development is taking place here, too. If you drive through the Congress Heights Community you will see the historic preservation of the neighborhood. One historic site, the Old Congress Heights School, located in Ward 8 has recently gotten a facelift and is beginning to revive a stagnant part of the community. For the past 27 years the Old Congress Heights School on MLK Avenue SE has been a community eye-sore. Opened in 1897 to serve, a then, predominately white community, the school was desegregated after the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision, and most of the white families moved away, thus the neighborhood became predominantly African American.

As the years passed the school slowly began to deteriorate until it was forced closed by the city in 1983. However, the school remained a historic site as it has seen the community through many transformative years.

2010 marked a pivotal year for the school when the District officials and city leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony April 19, 2010 to begin construction on the long abandoned school. The 13.5 million renovation was led by a public-private development team that gave the school a much needed facelift, reviving this historic site. The school officially opened it’s doors in February 2011 to The Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, which was formerly housed in a neighboring church. The School has been renovated to accommodate more than 500 students and includes oversized classrooms, a new library, a multimedia room, a cafeteria and an auditorium that will host various community activities.

Financially backed by Citi Community Capital (Citibank), the Office of Planning and Economic Development Neighborhood Investment Fund (NIF) and the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the school has been rehabilitated and improved by the District Development Group (DDG), a joint venture of Capitol Services Management, Inc. (CSMI) and Innovative Development Solutions (IDS).

Phinis Jones, Principal of DDG, has been a resident of Ward 8 for over 40 years and has been a business owner in the Congress Heights Community for nearly 30 years. . “I share great joy with the community in restoring this historic site. It has been a long overdue project that represents the new economic change that is taking shape in Ward 8.” He further states that he is excited to partner with the other organizations who have invested in this community enhancing project.

Stacy Scott, Imagine‟s Principal, has stated that she is thrilled that the city and private investors have decided to restore the school. “Our school is committed to ensuring that a quality education for students here in Ward 8 is accessible. The reopening of this school will allow us to accommodate more students and we are thrilled about the expansion.”

Imagine Public Charter School was formed in 2008 and currently operates in a church facility adjacent to the Old Congress Heights School. Open to all D.C. students, the school is a tuition-free public charter school offering the first “dual academy” (both genders) in single-sex academic programs.

Using New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) Citibank was able to provide over $9 million to finance the construction of the new facility. Along with Hamel Builders DDG was able to contract 35% of the construction contracts to Certified Business Enterprises (CBE) in addition to hiring local residents seeking employment. Jones said, “It was important for our company to hire local residents, as this revitalization project not only shows our commitment to the community but our commitment to hiring our residents so that they can take part in this historic project.” The 42,528 square foot building, once the refuge for vagrants and drug addicts, has now become a pearl of the Congress Heights Community.

Imagine Public Charter School is located at 421 Alabama Avenue Southeast, Washington, DC 20032 (202) 561-1622

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