Digging their buff and blue shovels into the soil, University administrators broke ground on two residence halls Aug. 8, putting the University on track to fulfilling a city on-campus housing requirement of 70 percent by 2009. However, the means and legal maneuvers GW used to acquire the property have Foggy Bottom residents agitated over what they see as another GW bite into the community.
Located on the east and west sides of 23rd Street between F and G streets, the halls are set to house more than 900 students in the next two years.
The larger residence hall, across from the Health and Wellness Center, will house 710 students in a 10-story building, according to plans, making it the second biggest residence hall behind Thurston Hall. The building will include “New Hall-style” rooms including 29 one-bedroom apartments and 163 two-bedroom units.
Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said the architects learned a lot from New Hall and were able to make changes through interviews with New Hall residents.
The plans for what some administrators are casually calling the “superdorm” also allow for two levels of underground parking, six music rehearsal rooms and a food court on the ground level.
“The food court will be a little smaller than J Street and will have another Provisions store,” Chernak said. “It will hopefully alleviate congestion from J Street.”
The residence hall is scheduled for completion for the 2004-2005 school year.
The second structure, unofficially called “townhouse row,” is already underway, on top of what was a Smith Center parking lot. Officials said they plan that the project, which includes eight townhouses for 24-30 students each, will be complete by next fall.
“(They) will replicate townhouses that once stood in Foggy Bottom,7” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said.
“Townhouse row” will hopefully create interest in the Greek-letter community, Chernak said.
Trachtenberg joked during the groundbreaking ceremony that the two halls will be up to code, “with no rats, with elevators, fire escapes and flushing toilets . it’s gonna be state of the art.”
Three townhouses will remain standing on the “superdorm” site. Owned by 30-year Foggy Bottom resident Donald Kreuzer, the three two-story townhouses will stand in the shadow of the new residence hall.
Trachtenberg, who was pictured in an April Washington Post Magazine feature under the headline “The University that Ate Foggy Bottom,” called the houses “a memento of a slightly worse time.”
Kreuzer said 30 townhouses once stood on the block, designated Square 43 in the campus plan, and GW gradually acquired and demolished all of the homes except for his.
Kreuzer said GW failed to offer him enough money to convince him to sell the townhouses he has owned since the 1970s and 80s.
“GW was playing real estate hardball,” Kreuzer said. “They offered me (amounts) lower than what the houses are worth . this is ridiculous.”
Kreuzer said GW has “not been neighborly” while acquiring the land and is afraid of a loss in property value because of the construction. He said he also fears that families will not want to rent his places after GW completes its townhouse project across the street, which is set to house fraternities.
Chernak said GW tried to acquire the three townhouses but that Kreuzer was a “non-motivated seller” and he wanted “extortion prices.”
Square 43 was a part of the campus plan in the 1970s but became a point of contention in the 1985 campus plan debate, said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber. D.C. universities in urban areas regularly submit campus plans, statements of the school’s property and uses for that property, to a city zoning board.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment then took Square 43 out of the campus plan because of concerns from the community, Barber said.
But the BZA reversed its decision in 2001 and ruled to include most of the block within GW’s campus boundaries in the interest of housing more students on campus, he said.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Elizabeth Elliot said the building is an example of GW’s disregard for the community and noted that the BZA “is apparently buying into GW’s expansion plans.”
Trachtenberg said housing students on campus is “at the top of the (community’s) A-list” and that GW is “building something they asked to be built.”
Barber said he does not think acquiring Kreuzer’s homes would have had a profound impact on the design or size of the residence hall.
In a similar situation in the 1980’s, GW built the Academic Center around an individual’s townhouse on the corner of 22nd and I Street.
Barber said it was privately owned until the resident died two years ago. GW now uses the house for academic offices after they reached an agreement with the individual’s heirs, he said.
This article appeared in the August 25, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.