New Washington-Lee Gets Mostly Good Reviews from Students


(Saturday, January 5, 2008 9:54 AM EST)

Most students wouldn't choose to relive their first day of freshman year - unsure where their lockers are, nervous they'll walk into the wrong class - but that's what it was like for many students at Washington-Lee High School when they returned to class after winter break.

On Jan. 3, Washington-Lee students stepped foot for the first time in the school's new academic wing, many with maps in hand to help them navigate the four-story, 250,000-square-foot building.

“It was like another first day of school,” said junior Will Angle. “It was kind of overwhelming.”

While some students found the building's design and color-scheme to be too sterile, others said they loved the more contemporary feel.

“It's like a clean slate,” said Michael Srisuwan. “The modern design, like in the library, is definitely a better change.”

“I didn't feel tired in the classrooms. Everything is bright with all the windows,” Angle said. “It's a lot more thought-through.”

With technology as a priority, the new wing features a wireless network, 16 science labs, three business labs and eight computer labs. Found in the main hallway (named “The Concourse” by student vote) is a laptop-friendly cyber café for students to use before and after school.

All the classrooms, which are considerably larger than the ones they replace, are equipped with interactive, electronic boards, eliminating the use of traditional blackboards and chalk.

“Our younger teachers come expecting this technology,” said assistant principal Tyrone Byrd. “Now we can compete for the best and brightest teachers. They'll want to come to a building like this.”

Washington-Lee teachers all received new laptop computers and can print wirelessly to printer stations throughout the wing. The new faculty lounge offers numerous computer terminals, comfortable seats and even a view the National Cathedral.

In an effort to be environmentally friendly, the building has a “green roof” to reduce stormwater runoff and uses motion-sensor lights to cut down on energy usage.

“You don't know what you're missing until you get what you're missing,” said principal Gregg Robertson. “We've always had a good program. Now we have a great building to go along with it.”

But with windows that block UV rays, theater-style computer labs and many more amenities, the Washington-Lee project hasn't been a cheap one.

The total project cost, which includes design, utilities and construction management and has two more phases to go, is $95.2 million.

This price tag is approximately $12.4 million more than the cost estimated when voters approved funding in a 2004 bond referendum. School administrators have said that the increase primarily is due to escalating construction costs.

While Washington-Lee dates to the 1920s (and was a segregated, all-white school until the early 1960s), most of the building that the students and teachers have vacated dates from the 1970s.

The second phase of the Washington-Lee rebuild, which will include construction of the remainder of the school - the auditorium, pool and gymnasium - is expected to be completed by July 2009. The third phase, a refurbishment of fields and remaining parking areas, should be finished by December 2009.

And even though some students like Bunlay Thong miss the old school because “it felt like home,” general consensus among the Washington-Lee community is that the new wing is vastly better than the original building.

“There's an element of sadness [leaving the old building],” Robertson said. “But everyone's excited. Every time a student comes into the new building, they're just in awe.”

Click here for a slide show of students at Washington-Lee High School.

Andrew Ricks and Katie Burneko study together in Washington-Lee High School's new library.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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