Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Survey Results: Franklin School

Residents overwhelmingly favor putting the historic Franklin School to an educational, rather than a private, use, according to my unscientific online public survey. 

Of 136 respondents, 79% favored an educational use for Franklin.  Less than 1 in 4 (22%) would rather see the building in private hands.  Four percent supported using the building for a public, but not education-related, purpose.

Of those that support an educational use for the building, more than half (58%) favor using Franklin School to house public charter schools that are in need of space.  The remainder split among preferring a downtown community college campus (17%), magnet high school (12%), or innovative elementary school (9%).  Only a handful advocated for using the building as space for college "semester in DC" or internship-type programs (4%).

Since the District of Columbia published a Request for Proposals seeking potential uses for the Franklin School that is geared toward private development, a Coalition has emerged to advocate that the city rewrite the RFP and reopen the process to give fair consideration to public uses.  Proposals that would restore the historic building's educational purpose for which it was designed should receive a strong preference.

Yesterday, the deadline expired for submitting proposals.  Unless the city reverses course, it is likely that the Franklin School will be awarded to a private (and politically-connected) developer on a long-term lease (i.e. 99 years), possibly at a substantial discount compared to the value of other core downtown properties, to construct a boutique hotel.

At first glance, it appears that the public property disposition law recently enacted by the D.C. Council would not require additional Council hearings regarding the whether the property should be declared surplus and used for private development.  The legislation became law without Mayor Adrian Fenty's signature when his review period expired on January 14, 2010 and now awaits the 30-day Congressional review period before it takes effect.  Even if applicable to the ongoing RFP-process for Franklin, the law's new safeguards that require the DC Council to assess and determine, after considering public comment, whether a public property is no longer required for public use before putting it into private hands, appear to apply only to outright sale of public property.  Although the originally introduced bill applied to long-term sales, the bill was watered down before it passed.  A 99-year lease, however, should be regarded as a constructive sale.

In any event, at a very minimum, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) should fully disclose the responses that it has received for the Franklin School and provide public hearings to discuss the potential options.

1 comment:

Cary Silverman said...

Here is a press release from the Coalition for Franklin School:

January 19, 2010

For Immediate Release
Joseph L. Browne, Chair, Steering Committee
Coalition for Franklin School

The Coalition for Franklin School (CFS) today filed a formal proposal with the District, calling for retention of the building in the public inventory and its redevelopment for educational use.

The Coalition’s proposal comes in response to a Request for Proposals issued by the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) in September 2009. The RFP, which suggests conversion of Franklin for condominium, hotel, or other commercial use, was formulated without input from the public on appropriate educational or cultural uses for the National Landmark building. DMPED has stated that it is unable to find “viable re-use” for the School. Last year, the District rejected two proposals from D.C. public charter schools to renovate Franklin for educational use.

“The mishandling of Franklin School is part of a larger breakdown in the way the District is disposing of publicly-owned real property – without adequate deliberation, procedure or imagination,” said Joseph Browne, CFS Steering Committee Chair. “The fact that a public treasure like Franklin, an important piece of our civic capital, could be put at risk shows how badly in need of reform the process is.”

The Coalition’s proposal to the District lays out several public and public / private partnership alternatives for redevelopment of Franklin, among them a magnet high school for global education; a school of education for teacher training and research; and an academic center that would share space through rentals to education organizations such as universities based outside the District.

The Coalition’s highest priority is creating a model 21st Century School, along the lines of the “School without Walls,” one of the District's most successful public high schools. A new high school with a special program in international and diplomatic studies has been proposed. The Coalition believes that Ward 2, where many embassies and international organizations are located, would be an ideal location. Nearby Metro stations would allow easy access for students from all over the city.

Franklin School is the work of Adolf Cluss, the District’s signature nineteenth-century architect, whose Eastern Market and Sumner School are among the District’s most cherished public buildings. Franklin opened in 1869, at a time when Washingtonians who wanted an excellent education for their children could obtain it only by paying for it at private institutions. The care and expense lavished by the D.C. public on Franklin marked the community’s commitment to quality public education for all Washingtonians. Franklin pioneered new programs for District schools, including a teacher education school, housed at Franklin for forty years, and Washington’s first public high school classes.

Historians consulted by the Coalition for Franklin School believe that Franklin may be the only intact, urban school that has survived in the country, making it a national treasure as well.

The Coalition for Franklin School, an ad hoc group organized in November 2009 to oppose the city’s plan for private, commercial development of the Franklin building, represents a cross-section of District of Columbia citizens and area residents.

Information about Franklin School and the work of the Coalition for Franklin School can be found at