GW seeks input from community on hospital site

The University is one step closer to deciding what it will build on the former site of the GW Hospital.

GW announced last month the hiring of a firm to conduct an evaluation of school and community goals that will be used to decide what will ultimately be built on the site, which is identified by the zoning classification Square 54.

“We recognize the importance of Square 54,” said development review specialist John Fondersmith of D.C.’s Office of Planning, which requested the evaluation.

The Office of Planning hopes to use the study to determine how prospective plans for the site can “contribute to the vitality of the area,” Fondersmith said. Any buildings on the site, located between 22nd and 23rd streets and I Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, will be the most visible to the outside community. GW officials said any buildings on the site would open in 2010 at the earliest.

Ehrenkrantz Eckstut and Kuhn Architects will evaluate the competing requests for buildings on the site and outline a plan for future University development. The Office of Planning referred EE&K to GW because it recently worked with the city on a plan to better integrate the nearby Kennedy Center into the community.

Over the next six months, EE&K will coordinate meetings to receive input from the University, local businesses, residents and organizations such as the Foggy Bottom Association. EE&K is trying to decide where to conduct the meetings and who will facilitate them. The Urban Land Institute, a non-profit research organization, will use the study to advise GW on how to use the site after EE&K’s work.

Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said the study is an important step in developing the former hospital site because construction could potentially affect community members if not conducted properly.

One of the University’s goals, Akin said, is to “think creatively about all of the issues.” He said even the process of selecting the facilitator involved input from community representatives.

Ron Cocome, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said his organization has been contacted about the evaluation. He said the FBA has discussed the issue but has not selected who will represent his community group in the discussions.

Cocome said it is the obligation of the city to serve the community, and he said the process of using an independent firm to study all parties’ input is a good plan.

“We hope that we can work toward using the land effectively,” Cocome said.

There is a general agreement between all parties involved that the former hospital site has great potential because of its prime location near the busy Foggy Bottom Metro Station and Georgetown.

“There is a convergence of all of these communities … right at the Metro,” said Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations. “The old hospital site is going to explode all of these tensions.”

The upcoming discussions will reflect the disparate desires of community members, professors and University officials.

Some Foggy Bottom residents, wary of GW’s increased enrollment, would like the University to build a residence hall on the site.

Meanwhile, the Faculty Senate, the governing body for professors, called on GW to build a new science facility on the site in a resolution passed in May. In addition, several deans have been clamoring for new buildings for their schools, and may ask for facilities on the site.

President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and other officials have indicated that a multi-use building – with classrooms, retail stores and offices – will likely be built on the site. The amount of space in the facility that will go to stores and office buildings will depend on how much money GW officials want to make from rent revenue.

Schario said GW would like to have zoning regulations changed for the site. Current zoning for GW property restricts GW from building as high as most of the city’s landowners.

“If we can’t grow up, then the challenge has always been to grow out,” Schario said. “We can’t grow out anymore.”

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