Thursday, September 3, 2009

Flagship College or Boutique Hotel?

This week's Current Newspapers includes a viewpoint feature in which I suggest using the Franklin School as a flagship downtown campus for UDC's community college, developing thoughts from my earlier post. The Current also includes a cover story applauding the opening of the new, separate community college ("After Years of Discussion, Community College Debuts"). Transforming the Franklin School into a downtown campus fits perfectly within UDC's long-term goals. According to the article:
"Plans for other satellite campuses [beyond use of the Backus Middle School in Ward 5] will follow. UDC already runs workforce-development programs at McKinley Technology High in Ward 5, the old Fletcher-Johnson school in Ward 7, and the Patricia R. Harris Education Center in Ward 8. “We want satellites everywhere,” said Emily Durso, chair of the University's Board of Trustees. “Research shows that community college students want to go to school where they live.”
I would add that nontraditional students are also likely to appreciate the ability to take classes where they work.

You can view the entire September 2, 2009 edition of The Current here. The viewpoint op-ed, reprinted below, appears on page 13. The report on UDC appears on page 1 and continues on page 25.

A flagship college or a boutique hotel?


“Ah! sir, I hope the time may never come when we would make less beautiful and attractive the places where our children are to receive an education, where lasting impressions are to be made upon the young mind, than we would the offices of State ... It has been well said by an eminent thinker, ‘Show me the churches and schoolhouses of a nation, and I will tell you what is its civilization and enlightenment.’”

Those were the eloquent words of Alderman W.H. Chase at the dedication of the Franklin School in 1869. His words were a reaction to critics who believed the building, designed by Adolf Cluss, was too fine for a public schoolhouse.

We return full circle today, as the District government, after soliciting requests for offers, opted not to award use of the now-vacant historic building at 13th and K streets NW to the city’s burgeoning public charter schools. Rather, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (read, private developers) may now hold the key to its future.

When constructed, the Franklin School was the flagship of seven modern urban public school buildings that housed, for the first time, a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the District.

Over the years, its mission evolved but remained true to public education. It housed the first normal school in D.C., providing teacher training, and held the first high school classes. Technical/vocational training classes were introduced, and a business high school arrived in 1891. From 1925 until 1968, the building served as the Board of Education’s headquarters. It then hosted an adult education center until 1989, when it closed for renovation. It did not reopen. Instead, the building decayed. Not coincidentally, so did the District’s educational system.

In its latest life, the Franklin School served as a low-barrier shelter for the homeless. The shelter, which had virtually no support services, took in more than 300 men each evening. Out into Franklin Square Park and the surrounding downtown streets they flowed when the shelter tossed them out each morning.

After gradually removing its beds to reduce capacity, Mayor Adrian Fenty abruptly closed the homeless warehouse in September 2008. The move was part of a noble, but still unachieved, goal — to move the homeless into transitional housing and smaller shelters across the city.

Even while the building still operated as a shelter, the city solicited proposals for its reuse. In 2005, the city entered a no-bid agreement with a politically connected developer to transform the building into a boutique hotel and private club. After questions arose regarding the city’s authority to enter the lease, the District backed out, leading to a lawsuit the city settled for a half-million dollars.

Transforming the Franklin School into a high-end hotel certainly has its appeal, not the least of which is tax revenue.

But what would Alderman Chase say?

If the Franklin School is not to house charter schools, there’s another sound option: the flagship building of D.C.’s new community college.

This year, the new president of the ailing University of the District of Columbia, Allen L. Sessoms, made the bold, wise decision to end open admissions for four-year degree programs and split off a separate community college. This marks an opportunity to return the Franklin School building to its roots.

The city is striving to repair its bruised and battered elementary and secondary education systems. But how do we provide tools for success to the generation that system has already failed? And, if Chancellor Michelle Rhee is successful in bringing students back into the public schools, what are their options when they graduate?

A downtown community college campus would provide adult education, technical training and four year degree programs. It would prepare students for the jobs that are so vital to the District’s economy, but for which employers find themselves relying on the Maryland and Virginia workforces.

Envision the new downtown campus opening its doors onto Franklin Square Park, where students would prepare for classes and eat lunch on the lawn.

Night students would walk to class from their downtown jobs. Steps away, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library would provide a resource for students. It would add vibrancy and energy to downtown — and further public education.

Turning the Franklin School into a boutique hotel may have appeal, but this historic building must be something more.


Scenic Artisan said...

i'd love to see it as a school for the building arts and architectural preservation.

perhaps as part of the smithsonian or the building museum.

but i know i'm just dreamin. these other ideas are vastly more feasible.

Anonymous said...

What is the projected demand for community college/technical school, and how does that compare with the capacity at Franklin if (re) renovated for a school?
My guess is that Franklin is too small to be effective in that role. But I do not know that.

Cary Silverman said...

Anon -- it's hard to say. UDC just created the community college this year and its enrollment is expected to grow. In fact, community college enrollment spiked nationwide this year. See

I'm not suggesting that the community college be housed entirely in the Franklin School, but that the building serve as a downtown campus, possibly focusing on a particular area, i.e. the community college's hospitality management program. That seems to be in line with UDC's plans to open several campuses throughout the city.

Anonymous said...

Then I will restrict my question to: what is the capacity of Franklin if used for education?
-Same anon as Oct 28 2:01PM, also same Ward 2 resident who is in boundary for Wilson as just 5 minutes ago posted on another related thread.

Cary Silverman said...

The capacity of Franklin, if used as a public school, is approximately 400-450 students. If used as a community college, it could serve significantly students, who would arrive and leave throughout the day and evening.

Aside from the basement level (which was originally used as gym space), the building has 14 classrooms and a great hall on the third floor. The original plans are here:

DC charter school parent said...

Here's the problem. DC has the most innovative and dynamic charter school sector in the country, but the schools, which educate almost 40% of public school students in the city, are marginally or temporarily housed in unsuitable buildings.

This is a no-brainer. Honor Adolf Cluss's vision by featuring a model school for the 21st Century in the nation's capital in the Franklin building.

It's a transit friendly location that can draw students from every Ward of the city. This building should be restored as a charter school. The building wants to be a school.