Sunday, August 8, 2010

Franklin School to Become New UDC Law School?

One week ago, at a meet and greet in Cleveland Park, DC Council Chairman and Mayoral Candidate Vince Gray declared, "I think the Franklin School would be a great place for the David Clarke School of Law. That certainly would better serve the community than another hotel."

The Fenty Administration has remained silent on this issue.

Seven months have passed since the deadline expired for Requests for Proposals (RFP) for use of the historic Franklin School building.  Three applicants submitted proposals for use of the site: a boutique hotel/culinary school, a successful Chinese-language immersion charter school, and the Coalition for Franklin School, a group that has urged the District to refocus on promising educational uses for the site.  Representatives of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) have repeatedly declined to comment on the status of the process.  An earlier RFP for Franklin, focusing on charter school use, was abandoned as "not viable." 

Use of the Franklin School as a new home for the UDC's law school is promising.  Currently, the law school, which has about 300 students and 20 faculty members, occupies one floor of two buildings on the Van Ness campus, plus a basement level.  Classrooms and clinics are on the second floor of building 38, administration and reception/special event space are on the 2nd floor of  building 39, and the library is at the basement level. 

In 2008, Councilmember Kwame Brown (D-At Large) introduced legislation, co-sponsored by 9 fellow councilmembers, to require UDC to develop a campus plan for the purpose of modernizing its facilities, including a separate facility for the law school.  The legislation does not appear to have moved forward, however, the law school's website states, "We are planning a state-of-the-art 'green' building, in which we will co-locate with many D.C. legal services providers to better serve clients and provide great internship, community service, fellowship, clinical, summer and post-graduate job opportunities for students." 

The status of plans for a new building, now two years later, are not known.  New and green sound snazzy, but there is something to be said for location, location, location.

Is Franklin a good fit for the law school?  Here's what a UDC student wrote us:
The David A. Clarke School of Law is the only American Bar Association-approved law school in the United States without its own, stand-alone building. We are currently housed on a single floor of the incredibly bland UDC-Van Ness campus. On an aesthetic end, a recent coat of yellow paint was applied in an attempt to make the interior of our building more bearable, but no one was fooled. Our school is tiny and our classrooms cramped, even with a student body of under 300 future lawyers.
Having such limited space inhibits enrollment, which in turn hampers our school's ability to recruit and develop a student body that reflects its mission statement of serving those traditionally underrepresented in law school enrollment. The current concrete building in which our one-floor law school sits looks as if it were built in Soviet Russia. Sometimes it feels like it, as well.

As a member of the student body, I have heard rumor after rumor that our school is looking for a stand-alone building in which to put the law school. Someone even suggested that a bland office building downtown would be our next home. But imagine our school in your building. We wouldn't have to remodel as much as would be needed to turn a suite of offices into a law school. Your building is already a school. And quite a beautiful one at that. It once helped shelter homeless persons--our school runs clinics that help lower income DC residents like the homeless. The fit seems perfect.
I agree and apparently so does Vince Gray.

Courtyard expansion area
The Franklin School could provide a great boost to the reputation of UDC's law school. It would provide 51,000 square feet (38,000 usable) including 14 classrooms with room for about 400 students and its Great Hall.  There's room for expansion.  As the RFP notes, while adding additional floors above the existing building is not feasible due to its historic designation, "use of some of the rear yard is expected to provide modern core facilities."  The site is zoned for a height of up to 110 feet with the highest Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 10.0.  This area might host a new modern library and administrative space.  More importantly, the location would place law students within blocks of the District's courthouses and numerous private firms.

It also meshes well with the school's proud focus on public interest law. As the Coalition pointed out in a recent letter pitching the idea to Law School Dean Katherine S. Broderick, "As the administrative headquarters for the DC Public Schools for 40 years in the Twentieth Century, the Franklin Building was often the site of demonstrations, sit-ins, and court challenges related to the struggle to integrate DC public schools."

What say you Mayor Fenty?


si said...

I think its a great idea! It seems to be a solution that would truly please almost everyone.

Danny Simon said...

Danny Simon - With all these expansions, renovations, refurbishments, new community college and future new campuses, new president taking bold and ambitious steps, upliftment, and so on, I am very proud to say that I am a UDC graduate and wish UDC the best. It would be a great idea to see UDC START THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR WITH A BRAND NEW Law School Building, standing alone.Besides a new breath of fresh air, it would bring clour and enhancement to this great university in the nation's capital. Good going Dr. Sessoms.