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Duke Ellington School of the Arts finishes modernization $100M over budget

The budget has skyrocketed to $178.5 million

Photo courtesy of the D.C. General Services

Next week, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts will reopen after a three-year, multi-million dollar renovation.

The Washington Post recently featured this project not only for its brand new classrooms, 850-seat multimedia auditorium, and 300-seat performance hall, but also for its budget and schedule. The project is opening more than a year behind schedule and approximately $100 million over the $71 million budget. Now, the budget is $178.5 million.

“How we got to this stage is beyond me,” said former mayor Vincent C. Gray at a D.C. Council meeting.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman also described the project as “Exhibit A in how not to control cost.”

In the past 10 years, the D.C. government has made school renovations and construction a bigger priority. By 2022, there are plans to complete modernizations on 90 percent of the city’s school buildings.

In the past decade, the amount of bills for school modernizations has also piled up. Last year, D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson reported that spending plans for 35 other D.C. public school modernizations grew from $586 million to $1.4 billion, as reported by The Washington Post.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Patterson said that the process for setting initial budgets almost guaranteed wildly unrealistic projections. The processes’ lack of transparency also led to final budgets that barely resembled the original ones.

For the Duke Ellington School of the Arts project, the original building spanned 171,000 square feet, while the newly renovated building offers 271,000 square feet, according to the project’s website. The building was constructed in 1898, while the school was founded in 1974 by philanthropist and art collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz and dancer and choreographer Mike Malone.

Some of the major renovated arts spaces will include a recording studio, control room, 100-seat band and orchestra rehearsal studios, jazz and percussion labs, string ensemble rehearsal studio. New students will also enjoy a 120-seat choir studio, six piano and music theory labs and classrooms, 22 sound isolation practice rooms, and nine sound isolation lesson studios.

It doesn’t stop there. There will also be three vocal technique studios, six dance studios and classrooms, eight museum studies and literary media and communication labs and classrooms, and three video, film, and editing labs.

Final need-to-know highlights include two music libraries, two green rooms, and a health center.

The school is known as one of the top arts high schools in the country with alumni that include opera singer Denyce Graves, comedian Dave Chappelle, and indie rocker Mary Timony.

Duke Ellington School of the Arts [Department of General Services]

D.C.'s vaunted high school for the arts reopens — $100 million over budget [The Washington Post]