(Washington D.C.) - With hundreds of alumni sporting the school’s signature crimson, Mayor Vincent C. Gray today celebrated the official opening of the new Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School at 101 N Street NW. Joined by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson, other District officials and past and present Dunbar administrators and faculty, Mayor Gray officially cut the ribbon to open the school’s new building. Dunbar was the nation’s first public high school for African Americans.
“The new building honors the legacy not only of Paul Laurence Dunbar, but also of all those who have come before us as students, faculty, and administrators. At the same time, it begins a new era for the past, present and future Dunbar High family,” said Mayor Gray, himself a Dunbar alumnus (Class of 1959). “I want to congratulate all of the city officials, Chancellor Henderson, Principal Jackson and his team, the architects, builders, students, parents, civic leaders and alumni who played large and small roles in helping to bring to fruition a new campus befitting Dunbar’s grand tradition of academic and athletic excellence.
Monday’s celebration marked the first day of a weeklong event to dedicate the new facility for the school, which was founded in 1870 at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church and originally named the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth. As part of the weeklong celebration, Mayor Gray also signed a proclamation honoring Monday as “Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School Opening Day.”
The design for the new Dunbar honors the school’s traditions and history as well as its many accomplished alumni by taking inspiration from the attributes that made the school’s long-since-demolished 1917 building a functional success and a point of civic pride. The architects and designers incorporated those ideas and interpreted them in a 21st-century, technology-rich context. The new Dunbar was designed to ensure that every square foot of the building and the campus would support the students’ education and foster a professional teaching community.
“Today is an exciting moment in Dunbar history and the start of brand new Dunbar High School. Dunbar has a long history of accomplishments and a legacy that makes us all proud. I’m confident that this new building is going to help our students succeed at even higher levels,” said Chancellor Henderson. “I especially want to recognize the Dunbar alumni, whose steadfast cooperation and commitment helped us get to where we are today with this gorgeous new building. I am so proud and thankful for the work that went into making the dream of this new building a reality for our students and teachers, and I am eager to see what our students can do in this amazing facility.”
The new Dunbar nods to the school’s history of top-level academics and accomplished graduates with four distinct learning academies, named after prominent alumni – Dr. Charles R. Drew, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dr. Anna J. Cooper, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray. The academies feature technology-rich laboratories, classrooms and collaborative faculty workspace across the four floors of the academic wing.
“The new school and new academic program honors the past, present and future and thus will stimulate a greater sense of pride by alumni. The Dr. Laurence Graves Museum on Dunbar History on the first floor will help us use the past to inspire the students and faculty to achieve excellence in all they know and do,” said James Pittman, Chairman of the Dunbar Alumni Federation, an alliance of more than 2,000 graduates and friends of Dunbar.
The new, five-floor, 280,000-square-foot building is organized around a double-height central commons area, called – as was a similar area in the 1917 Dunbar building – the “Armory.” It is designed to become the heart of the school, connecting the four academies, the gym, pool, media center, and performing arts facility into a coherent and inviting learning community.
“One of the goals of the design for the new Dunbar High School was to pay homage to historic elements of the original school building – grand entry, tower elements, bay windows, articulated corners, and strong horizontal lines,” said D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) Director Brian J. Hanlon. “We achieved this goal with a fresh and modern approach, which speaks to the achievements we know will be made by present and future Dunbar students.”
The new facility features a centrally located media center with great views to and from the neighborhood. A performance theater, pool and a competition gymnasium will also provide enhanced opportunities for the school’s programming and like the media center, feature views of the surrounding campus and community.
Dunbar High School is a green building targeting LEED Platinum certification, the highest level of certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.