The redevelopment of the Franklin School downtown is starting to feel like a turf war. Every faction has a fair argument to make about why the place should fit their vision:
First, there are the homeless advocates crying “Reopen Franklin Shelter Now.” (That is, in fact, the name of their campaign.) And since the Franklin School was last used as a homeless shelter, and the homeless population has entered a bit of a crisis lately, their claim seems totally fair.
Then there are, of course, the private developers, who the city seems to be targeting in their push to redevelop the school. And since they can bring in the tax dollars and a spending boost to D.C.—-and the city already deemed charter schools not economically “viable” for the space—-their claim is also legitimate.
But then, there are the school advocates who say “Hello, the Franklin School is a school.” And you can imagine their thrust. The advocates are now a formal group,”The Coalition for Franklin School.” They sent out a press release on Jan. 19 about a proposal sent to the city with some suggestions for the building’s use:
1. Educational use
a. Public School use – Model 21st Century School (remembering that Franklin School was internationally recognized in the 1870’s as a model school). Something like the very successful “School Without Walls”, which has many more applicants than can be accommodated from all over Washington, can be considered. A new high school with a special program in international and diplomatic studies, arts and music has been proposed. Ward 2, where many embassies and international organizations are located, would be the ideal location. The school district of the capital of the United States, above all, should have such a high school as other school districts in other capital cities and within this country do.
b. Charter School use – also as a model 21st century school. There is a call for the building’s use as a Chinese-language immersion school.
c. A new teacher-training institution to prepare future teachers for 21st-century teaching methods and to offer in-service seminars for current teachers. Franklin School previously served a similar purpose for forty years, from 1873 to 1913. This could be combined with a model school on the premises.
d. Community College space for the University of the District of Columbia;
e. Classroom space on a rental basis for out-of-town universities
2. Cultural/non-profit use – taking advantage of a restored Great Hall for concerts, lectures, gallery space.
a. Not-for-profit institutions with international connections. There are many in Washington and most of them currently rent space. We believe that many would be attracted by the Franklin School’s elegance, location, and historical character.
b. Partial use for a museum: a museum of education was proposed in the 1980’s but never implemented. Yet, this would be an appropriate place for such a facility at a time when the nation is reexamining public education in general. Music, labor, photography, and high-tech communications are also unrepresented in the center city and would be attractive to Washingtonians and visitors alike.
3. Mixed use.
Any of the above non-profit educational/cultural tenants plus a commercial client. If the building is wired as a high-tech, 21st century school, it becomes a prestigious conference space, available for rental to clients having meetings planned in Washington. We believe that a high-tech firm (e.g., Google, Microsoft, Apple) would be interested in the building’s prestigious location for a non-profit gallery where its technology could be highlighted. This could also be a way of creating a creative industries workplace, in which every former classroom would be a studio for a different creative activity. A business conference center, technology gallery, or a creative industries workplace would all serve to make Washington known as an innovator in the global 21st century economy.