D.C. approves F Street dormitory construction

The D.C. Zoning Commission unanimously approved a joint construction project between GW and School Without Walls Monday evening – a decision that will lead to a new residence hall on campus.

The University and D.C. Public Schools filed the application to build an addition to the high school and a dormitory on F Street behind the school. Plans for the renovations to the Grant Building, which the school currently occupies, include internal repairs and the construction of a five-story glass tower west of the building. The residence hall will stand 110 feet tall and house 474 students.

“I have been on a lot of cases with George Washington University, and although I don’t think the neighbors will agree with me … I think this is one of the best (applications) I have seen,” said Zoning Commission Vice Chair Anthony Hood after the proposal passed.

Alicia O’Neil, director of GW Real Estate Planning and Development, said the University is planning to start construction in summer 2007 and students will move into the building in fall 2009.

The Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an elected body which advises the D.C. government on residential concerns, voted to oppose the application in their October meeting because the dormitory was too large. David Lehrman, an ANC commissioner who voted against the ANC opposition, said the Zoning Commission made the right choice.

“Are we missing a sensitivity chip in some place?” Lehrman said at the Zoning hearing Oct. 30. “This is an exceptionally unusual and noble project.”

Although the ANC was concerned with the adverse impacts of the residence hall, ANC Chair Vince Micone said he is happy with the outcome.

“It’s a model that other Universities should emulate,” Micone said. “I don’t think anyone can be disappointed that the School Without Walls is getting a new building.”

GW Media Relations Director Tracy Schario said the new residence hall will help the University meet its on-campus housing requirement, mandated by the University’s Campus Plan agreement it negotiation with the community. She said GW’s partnership with the public high school benefits everyone involved.

“This is truly a model for public-private partnerships in D.C.,” Schario wrote in an e-mail.

University officials said the hall’s construction will begin as soon as possible, but no dates have been determined. The residence hall will consist of quads, with four single bedrooms connected to a common room, two bathrooms and a kitchen.

The School Without Walls addition is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2009. The school’s principal, Richard Trogish, said they need to work with D.C. Public Schools to locate a temporary building for the 12 to 18 months of construction.

He added that finding a building for the students will not be easy because the magnet school for above-average students draws children from throughout the D.C. metro area. Many School Without Walls students and teachers take classes at GW, he said, so Metro accessibility will be important for the temporary location.

Students and parents said they were very excited about the new building.

“I think the new plans are very, very modern, and that’s a parallel if you go upstairs you will see the damage from the elements,” said SWW senior Marcus Hendricks. “In my Spanish class the roof leaks when it rains … and in the library (too). We’ve had to move the books.”

While the renovations will be completed years after Hendricks leaves the school, he said the effort he put into attending the zoning hearing is worth it.

“What I’ve done to help advance the progress of the building is something I will always remember.”

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