GW nears deal for SWW lot

The University is one step closer to building a new residence hall after working out a tentative deal with the D.C. Board of Education to purchase the parking lot adjacent to School Without Walls High School.

If GW and the Board of Education reach an agreement, the University would pay the city a minimum of $10 million to buy the parking lot behind the magnet school, located at 2130 G St.

The city would then use the money to fund the renovation and modernization of the high school, which is dilapidated and overcrowded. GW hopes to build a dormitory on the parking lot and University-owned tennis courts located behind the school on F Street.

University officials stressed that the Board of Education and GW do not have a final agreement and said more detailed negotiations between the two are planned for the fall. Any agreement would require the approval of the University’s Board of Trustees and numerous city officials.

“The school board has passed a resolution, accepting, in concept, our proposal,” University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said.

GW’s $10 million bid for the 8,600 square foot-lot is based on the estimated value of the land and its development prospects.

“You can’t just literally look at the piece of land,” said Louis Katz, executive vice president and treasurer. “Land is worth a lot in D.C. partly because of the facilities that can be constructed on it.”

School Without Walls principal Sheila Mills Harris would not comment about ongoing negotiations between GW and D.C. education officials. In an interview earlier this year, Harris said her school’s G Street building is in desperate need of repair.

“Lord knows we need a new building … Everyday something goes haywire,” she said. “Everyday there are challenges.”

In 2003, officials at the high school said it operated at 125 percent capacity and lacks vital facilities, including a gymnasium, cafeteria and science labs.

In March 2003, the school was featured in a Bob Herbert New York Times column because it is located only blocks away from the White House but lacks basic necessities.

“The students and teachers at a high school within walking distance of the White House were struggling through their daily routine in a building that has no cafeteria, no gymnasium, no student lockers, not even a fully reliable source of electricity,” Herbert wrote.

Any land purchase deal would involve expanding the relationship between the School Without Walls and GW, Barber said.

Currently, some of the high school’s students and teachers take introductory courses at the University without charge; students are granted access to campus facilities such as the Gelman Library and J Street. GW holds some courses in the school and is working to let SWW students have partial access to the Health and Wellness Center.

Barber said a negotiating team of members from the University and the school board will likely meet in the fall to hammer out details of the land deal and future development on the site. Additionally, a separate task force would later be appointed to address expanding the academic and operational relationship between GW and the magnet school.

Barber added that if GW purchases the land, it would still have to clear the hurdles of D.C. Zoning Commission approval. GW first needs to secure permission to construct a new building. The University would then need the land to be rezoned so that it could erect a sizable residential facility that would not impact other on-campus construction projects. Under current zoning rules, GW, which is building a new hall on F Street, is limited in the amount of new facilities in can construct on campus.

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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