Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Poll: Franklin School

The Franklin School, located at 13th & K Street NW, was designed by Adolph Cluss in 1869.  It is a National Historic Landmark. Photo: army.arch on Flickr.

What do you think is the best use of the vacant Franklin School building at 13th & K?  Please take a moment to vote in the poll in the top right corner of the blog.  Here are some of the options:

Magnet high school:  Did you know that aside from School Without Walls, which has far more applicants than available slots, there is no public high school in all of Ward 2?  Students on the west side of the Ward travel up to Woodrow Wilson in Tenleytown.  Those on the east side head over to Dunbar in the area of Shaw near New Jersey Avenue that extends into Ward 5.  Franklin's central location would be easily accessible through multiple metro stations and bus stops.  I attended a magnet high school in New York, as I believed it provided an environment that was more conducive to learning (i.e. safer than my neighborhood school and with more focused students) and it had an alternative curriculum that was a better fit for me.  The magnet school could also have a limited in-boundary area to guarantee a slot for those who live downtown.  It could provide an innovative program, such as focusing on international studies or the arts.  The school has a capacity of approximately 400 to 450 students.  While there is no athletic field, arrangements might be made with another school. 
Innovative elementary/middle school program: According to the Downtown BID, there are now about 3,000 apartments and 2,500 condos downtown. Not all of these are in the immediate area of Franklin, but some are, and more will be.  For instance, about 700 additional units are planned for the Old Convention Center site, just a few blocks from the Franklin School.  While there may be few children in these buildings, if DC is going to have a sustainable and livable downtown, it will need high-quality schools in the area.  Franklin may provide a location to fulfill this need.  A challenge, however, is that it does not have playground or outside recreation space, is not conducive to busing, and downtown streets could pose a safety challenge to walking to school.  Parents who live or work downtown, however, would find it convenient to walk or drop off their children at school.  For instance, Stevens Elementary (closed this year) located on K Street had a population of out-of-boundary students whose parents worked downtown.  Likewise, Hardy Middle School in Georgetown is about 80% out-of-boundary students.

Community college: Earlier this year, UDC established a community college.  In addition, DC Appleseed and the Brookings Institution have voiced support for establishing an independent public community college.  While the Franklin School would not provide capacity for an entire community college, it could provide a flagship downtown campus.  The school might focus on a program such as hospitality management, a paralegal program, construction management, or provide technical training.  This is consistent with UDC's goal of opening several campuses throughout the city over the next few years.  The downtown location would be particularly convenient for DC residents, many of whom might work in the area while taking classes, who would otherwise need to travel to Van Ness.  Franklin Square would provide a quad that students could use for study groups, reading, and lunch.

DC-Semester college programs.  Various public and private colleges throughout the country have semester-in-DC programs.  Some of the larger universities, such as the University of California, have classroom space in the District, but many do not.  The Franklin School classrooms might be made available, for a fee, for such programs.  In addition, the building's Great Hall could host lectures both for students and the DC community.  If not filled by educational programs, rooms in the building might provide ideal conference space for business and other meetings.

Charter school.  The city recently put out a "Request for Offers" for charter school use of the school, but, after receiving responses, deemed none of them acceptable.  That may be because the city expected the charter school to finance renovation of the massive building.  There are many quickly expanding charter schools that are looking for space and could fill all or a part of the building.  KIPP and a chinese language immersion public charter school, Washington Yu Ying, are two examples.

None, prefer another public use: The Franklin School was designed for educational uses, however, there may be other options that serve District residents.  The building might provide space for local artists and exhibits, performances in the Great Hall, or cultural events.  In the past, the building provided administrative space for the Board of Education.  It could provide government offices or a recreation center of some type.  Fortunately, the building is no longer being used as a massive emergency homeless shelter without sufficient services.

None, prefer private development.  Currently, the District government is accepting proposes for a private use of the Franklin School.  In the past, developers have expressed interest in turning the building into a boutique hotel.  The private option has its attractiveness.  Such a use would generate tax revenue for the city and put the building into productive and well-maintained use.  There would be limitations, however, given the building's historic landmark designation, which covers both the inside and outside of the building.  Such a hotel, at that location, would have few rooms, extremely expensive rates, and could not have any retail/restaurant space opening onto the street.

Some view private development as a faster way to fill the vacant building, particularly given the RFP process already underway. That's not necessarily the case. Think Convention Center Hotel, 5th and I project, Old Convention Center site, O Street Market. Not exactly quick movers. Nor is private development necessarily free for the city. Quick frequently in recent years, the DC Council has provided substantial public financing for such projects.

Even when the building opened over 150 years ago, there were those who thought it was too magnificent for a school.  Men in top hats fought and lost that argument back then.  Will their arguments win the day in 2009?


Anonymous said...

You know there is a school just a block from this site, Strong John Thomson Elementary. The newly-renovated school offers Mandarin Language instruction, guitar lessons, and an award winning principal. Check it out at

I don't think putting a Mandarin immersion charter school across makes the best sense, though.

Anonymous said...

Ellington is a public high school. Yes, like Hardy it is arts focused, but it is both public and a high school.
Just saying.
A Ward 2 resident who's in-boundary public high school is Wilson in Ward 3.

Anonymous said...

It seems like a strange place to locate an elementary school. The congestion would be awful.