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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.