Staffers face long commute to Virginia

After spending three years working in Foggy Bottom, Lorraine Lambert isn’t sure she loves her new GW workplace in rural Virginia.

Lambert is just one of dozens of GW administrators and employees who have been relocated from Rice Hall in downtown D.C. to GW’s Ashburn, Va., campus. The Virginia Campus, located an hour from the city by shuttle bus, consists of three buildings surrounded by an apartment complex, a small shopping center and not much else.

The Financial Aid office made the move in August and some employees are still shuttling back and forth between Foggy Bottom and the Virginia Campus because of staffing shortages, said Teresa Gallagher, senior associate director of student financial assistance. While most of the employees interviewed said they enjoy the extra space their new locations offer – the offices are housed on the third floor of Building II – they are not as pleased with the lengthy commute and feel disconnected from the GW campus.

The detachment is one of the more subtle byproducts of the University’s efforts to move administrative back offices out of valuable Foggy Bottom real estate and onto the 18-year-old satellite campus. Previously, the campus operated mostly independent of its Foggy Bottom counterpart, but more and more people are making the move northwest.

The school has set up a shuttle that runs throughout the day to the Virginia Campus, though many employees have had to start driving to work or using the Metro. A handful of administrators reported driving more than an hour or two each way.

Gallagher moved to the Virginia Campus in August.

“We have people who live in Maryland and D.C. who have to come down here,” Gallagher said. “Now they take the shuttle or work out their schedules to leave a little earlier or come a later.”

The increased commute is not the only thing the employees will have to adjust to when moving to Virginia. Building II, which is filled with cubicles and windows that look out onto miles of undeveloped fields, feels corporate, some workers said.

“When I was in Rice Hall and Colonial Central I worked with students face to face, here I only talk to them over the phone or e-mail,” Lambert said. “I guess that is the part I miss the most, the face-to-face part.”

Often employees would form bonds with the students they helped, staying in touch with them for years after they graduated.

“I do miss the face-to-face contact with students and knowing that students who’ve graduated [were] able to come back to say hello because they always knew where to find me,” Senior Financial Aid Officer Tracey Davis said. “I got to meet their spouses and children which was always beautiful. That’s probably the hardest for me.”

And plenty of students could come back to see her; Davis has worked in the University’s financial aid office for 14 years, making the move to Ashburn last August.

Davis added that the commute – she leaves her home at 6:30 a.m. – is probably the worst part of moving to the Virginia Campus.

The campus is currently home to back office employees for a variety of departments including Financial Aid, Information Systems & Services and Student Accounts. It also holds graduate level classes and research facilities.

The University is in planning stages to move more offices to the Virginia Campus but the exact numbers of final offices to be moved has not yet been determined, University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said.

This winter GW paid more than $16 million for a new building on the campus, which is slated to free up more space for graduate programs and administrative offices.

Sarah Scire and Nathan Grossman contributed to this report.

This story has been edited to reflect the following correction:

The Hatchet erroneously reported that the Virginia Campus is “south” in relation to Washington, D.C. It is located to the northwest of the city.

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