Mayor Vincent C. Gray

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November 17, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray Celebrates Groundbreaking for the New Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School 

New Facility Brings 21st-Century Design to One of Nation’s Most Historic High Schools

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(WASHINGTON, DC) — Mayor Vincent C. Gray officially broke ground today on the site of what will become an all-new Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School. The historic institution has the distinction of being the nation’s first high school for African-American students.

“Today we celebrate the rich history of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, and the first step in building a bright, new future for Dunbar’s students, staff, and community,” Mayor Gray, a Dunbar alumnus, said. “The new Dunbar will be a model of 21st-century educational excellence in the District and beyond.”

The design for the new Dunbar has a central “armory,” reminiscent of the old Dunbar campus (replaced with the current campus in the early 1970s) in that it connects the academic, administrative, auditorium and gymnasium spaces. The new design weaves the sports fields of the school and recreation center together through the armory, fostering more frequent interaction between students and staff.


Dunbar’s roots date to 1870, when it was founded as the “Preparatory High School for Colored Youth” before being renamed the “M Street School.” With the opening of the school’s previous campus in 1916, it was renamed in honor of famed African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Known for excellent academics, Dunbar became a prestigious school during the era of segregated public education in Washington, when its faculty rivaled that of many colleges in the percentage of its teachers who held terminal degrees in their fields. The school’s rigorous academic reputation gave many young African Americans unparalleled access to higher education and the professions. Inspired families moved to Washington specifically so their children could attend Dunbar.

“This is a very exciting project, as the new Dunbar will be the second high school the Department of General Services (DGS) will build from the ground up,” said City Administrator Allen Y. Lew. “It is an exciting project in that we are also focusing on featuring the historic elements of the original school in a fresh and modern way.”

The footprint of the new building is on the southeast corner of the site, allowing Dunbar students and faculty to remain in the existing building until the new high school is completed.

Construction of the new building will begin soon after the groundbreaking. The construction process is expected to take 20 months, with the new school completed in time for the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Demolition of the existing building will begin in July 2013. Once demolition is complete, construction of the new football field and track will follow, to be completed by late fall/early spring 2013.

Renderings of the new Dunbar campus are attached. A video virtual tour of the new Dunbar campus is available at