Sale of MacArthur Property to DCPS Brings Finality to Campus Transition and, for Some, Nostalgia

The old lower/middle school campus on MacArthur Boulevard, pictured on April 16. Photos by Reid Alexander. 

On Mar. 29, the former GDS lower/middle school campus, located at 4530 MacArthur Boulevard, was officially sold to D.C. Public Schools. In response to an overcrowding problem in public schools, the city had in August 2020 budgeted $48 million to purchase the GDS property. 

GDS had initially made a deal to sell the property to an unidentified buyer that then backed out, allowing DCPS to step in before closing the deal with GDS last month. The sale brings financial finality to the school—and emotional closure to the community—after a campus unification process that has been underway for years. It also marks the end of a chapter for GDS, which inhabited the building for over half a century.

“The old LMS was a great place,” said freshman Charles Hatton, although the walls were close together, making it “impossible to get anywhere. The good thing about the tight spaces, though, is that you know everybody. You would have eighth graders making friends with third graders because it was hard to miss anybody.”

The sale sparked nostalgic feelings in some students whose lower/middle school years took place at the MacArthur Boulevard property. Sophomore Sophie Bronner also recalled the building’s long hallways. “I loved being in the crowded hallways at the LMS because I would always run into friends,” she said. 

The former LMS building has been empty for several months, and free of students since the coronavirus cut short GDS’ final months on the campus last spring. It was only last month that ownership of the property formally left GDS’ hands, culminating a process that lasted years.

Over two years ago, GDS accepted an offer from an unknown buyer to purchase the building. GDS was under contract to sell to this buyer, but, ultimately, “the original buyer decided that they no longer wanted to enter the Washington, D.C., market,” Jeffrey Houser, the chief financial officer of GDS, said in an interview with the Bit. “The original buyer hired a commercial real estate broker who discovered that DCPS was interested in the property,” Houser explained. 

As The Augur Bit reported in December 2020, DCPS expressed interest in buying the property to help solve a problem of overcrowding in public elementary, middle and high schools in Wards 2 and 3. A community working group report published in 2019 predicted that all schools in those wards would be overenrolled by 2025. In the summer of 2020, the city government allocated up to $48 million to purchase the GDS property in its 2021 fiscal year budget plan. 

Many details of the sale, including the identity of the original buyer and the actual sale price paid by DCPS, are restricted by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), according to Houser. In the context of a real estate transaction, an NDA prohibits the buyer and seller from disclosing key information regarding the sale and imposes financial penalties for noncompliance. As Houser explained, “GDS is not allowed under the agreement to express, mention or articulate any of the details of the confidentiality agreement to anyone.” DCPS personnel could not be reached for comment.

The building’s middle school entrance and the sloping roof over its gym.

While Houser could not share the purchase price, he indicated the sale resulted in a positive outcome for GDS. The school “has been able to return its debt to a level lower than before the unification project began from the proceeds of the sale,” he said.

Houser, one of the administrators at the helm of the campus transition, feels bittersweet about the sale—but mostly sweet. “We are sad to say goodbye to 4350 MacArthur,” he said. “At the same time, we’re very happy that DCPS was able to buy a great school building in a location where public-school space was sorely needed.” Most of all, Houser said GDS is “pleased to finally be on a unified campus.”

The former GDS lower/middle school will be missed greatly as it was significant to many in the GDS community. “It would have been nice to have one more look at the old LMS and one last goodbye before leaving,” Hatton said. “That was basically where my learning in school started.” He reflected on the emotional impact of the building in which he’d spent so much time now “being gone” from GDS.

Sophomore Liam Zeilinger, a lifer at GDS, said, “One thing that I vividly remember was the smell of the pre-K hallway and the multi-purpose room. It had a little kid smell.” 

Senior Ashton Brubaker, who is nearing the end of her GDS career, recalled, “My favorite place in the building was the middle school lounge above the gym that had a foosball table and vending machines.”

Fifth-grade math teacher Bryan Williams, who taught at the former LMS site, said, “One of my favorite memories from the other LMS was Country Market Day. I enjoyed seeing the high school students come with their younger siblings and reminisce about their time on that campus.”