Housing Complex

City Urged Not to Offload Franklin School

Representatives from the Department of Real Estate Services and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development dodge rhetorical tomatoes. (Lydia DePillis)

DMPED and DRES dodge rhetorical tomatoes. (Lydia DePillis)

At this point, after having received one viable bid in response to its RFP for redeveloping the landmarked Franklin School at 13th and K Street NW as a luxury hotel, the City Council could still vote to get it off the books. But it would be difficult to claim any degree of community support for doing so.

At last night's hearing on the disposition of the school–a process by which the city would determine that the building had "no public use"–officials from the Department of Real Estate Services and Office of the the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development laid out the school's long background. The 150-year-old building degenerated physically during its life as a homeless shelter until the Fenty administration closed it in 2008, and it will now be very expensive to renovate (estimates range from $20 million to $35 million).

Howard Marks, a resident of 1150 K Street NW, testified that his condo board supported the disposition of the school to a private developer. Everybody else, however, insisted that any number of pressing public needs justified keeping it in the city's portfolio, whether that be for a new homeless shelter, senior housing, or non-profits and charter schools. The Committee of 100 and Society of Oldest Inhabitants put in their two cents, arguing that the building's historic character would probably be best served by retaining it as a public asset. Neighborhood activist Cary Silverman in particular expressed frustration over the number of potential users who had come and gone in recent years while the city stood by the boutique hotel, which "appears to be a foregone conclusion." The Coalition for Franklin School wants to see a new RFP issued with a priority for educational uses, which would allow Vince Gray's favorite law school to apply, even though it might not fit.

It's a tricky thing: DMPED project manager Jared Kahn stated in no uncertain terms that there was zero money in the city's budget to devote to the school's rehabilitation. Council behavior suggests that when they really want to find money for something, they can. But the school has the misfortune to fall under the jurisdiction of Councilmember Jack Evans, who has pushed for cuts in social services and seems sanguine about the prospect of a hotel. Now, activists just have to hope that Gray will be a stronger advocate.

  • tucker


    What is your beef with Evans?

    "But the school has the misfortune to fall under the jurisdiction of Councilmember Jack Evans.."

    If you are simply reporting from a meeting, how about keeping your editorial comments to yourself? Ward 2 is lucky to have Evans. He listened to the community on the Stevens school and all signs indicate he will do the same on Franklin.

    If you want to pay more taxes for the DC guv to squander, make a donation to the DC Treasurer.

  • RT

    I agree. If Lydia had been around, she'd realize the vital role Jack Evans played in the turnaround of this city during the Control Board period. He is the only councilmember with true bona fides in the real estate and finance sector.

    However, we know how "cut off your nose to spite your face" liberal this city can be. Even though he's a die hard Dem, people treat him as if he's some fatcat Republican, when he's anything but. I'm thrilled to have him as my councilmember. Our council has been really watered down in recent years, so it's nice to have a true stalwart who's been through it all rather than more Michael A Browns who slither in the back door, live in their Chevy Chase mansion, yet pander to the poor without providing any substantive solutions to ANYTHING.

  • Rick Mangus

    @tucker - you are right.

    This reporter thinks she is on the op-ed page. Poor example of journalism.

    What cuts has this Councilman made to social services? None! Barry and Alexander on the other hand....

  • http://franklinschooldc.org Kesh Ladduwahetty

    Lydia, thanks for covering this. I would like to point out that DRES estimates the cost of renovation as $18 - 23 million. Also, you are right that Evans is hostile to the idea of keeping Franklin public property -- the Current newspapers quoted him recently on this very topic. The Coalition for Franklin School designed an exhibition about its history which is currently on display at the Wilson building (Ground floor, atrium). I hope City Paper gives it some coverage!

  • Eric

    @tucker, RT, & Rick:

    If you have been paying attention for, I don't know, the last year (!), the inclusion of opinion has always been a part of this column. It is not an op-ed because op-eds are for those who are normally one-time contributors. It is not an AP newswire because it's not supposed to be. This is a column that follows a particular beat, but is much like a sports column in that the journalist is not only a writer, but an urban pundit. Ms. DePillis is entitled to, and almost always brings her valuable opinions to her column. I believe she should. Leave the factual stories to the Business Journals and Wall Street Journals of the world.

  • Eric

    I also think Ms. DePillis was saying it was unfortunate that the building falls under the jurisdiction of Jack Evans for those who would like stronger involvement from the city government. Maybe she doesn't like Evans, as well, but if that's the experience she's had with him thus far, I'm inclined to trust her.

  • Lydia DePillis


    Thanks for your kind words. You're right, I was alluding to the fact that Evans is the biggest fiscal hawk on the Council (his willingness to hand out tax abatements notwithstanding) and has been beating the drum about making painful cuts to services for many months now. From the WBJ:

    “There’s only one bidder and that is a hotel, and if tthat’s the only prospect then that is what I want to see,” said D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, who represents the Franklin School neighborhood. “I would like to see Franklin return to the tax rolls.”

    @Kesh, I was using Cary Silverman's number for the upper end estimate: http://theother35percent.blogspot.com/2010/10/no-viable-public-use-for-franklin.html



  • Rick Mangus

    I don't buy it.

    Why is it "unfortunate" that the school falls in Evans' Ward, Lydia? Why wouldn't you say that it is "fortunate" because he wants it back on the tax rolls, which would in turn help to fund the social safety net that everyone is freaking out about?

    Your allegiance to the "advocates" and their cause doesn't have a place here. You should start your own blog for that.

  • Tex

    Jared Kahn is right and this proposal accomplishes what the City has been seeking for years -- a viable use for a beautiful building that desperately needs restoration.

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