Duke Ellington Gets Official Groundbreaking for Its Modernization Project

At the groundbreaking in front of the east façade, government and school officials lined up; in center were Mayor Vincent Gray, School Chancellor Kaya Henderson and school co-founder Peggy Cafritz. | Robert Devaney

Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, other local politicians and school officials formally broke ground Dec. 19 for the Duke Ellington School for the Arts Modernization Project.

Ellington students have moved to Eugene Meyer Elementary School on 11th Street, NW. The 35th Street school is closed until September 2016 for redesign, renovation and additions.

The $82-million project will expand the historic school — built in 1898 and originally known as Western High School — to 294,900 square feet. The interior of the school will contain an atrium and a new 850-seat theater. The rooftop will have a classroom along with limited-use space. The school’s main portico will be preserved. Construction has already begun.

Among the speeches by Gray, Brian Hanlon of the Department of General Services and others, Father John Payne was remembered. Payne had become school principal this year and died suddenly Oct. 9.

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