Jose Sousa, a project manager with the deputy mayor for planning and economic development’s office is quoted as saying, “It is our belief there is no viable public use for that space.”
The Coalition of Franklin School, however, believes there are many viable educational uses for the Franklin School - but they have not be adequately sought and vetted.
The problem is that the District, as owner of the building, has allowed it to deteriorate for decades. When built by famous architect Adolf Cluss 150 years ago, it was a model public school that was looked to for inspiration not just within the United States, but internationally. After later serving as the District's Department of Education, and as a vocational education center, it was left vacant, then turned into a homeless shelter. It has remained empty again since Mayor Fenty cleared it out in 2008.
Estimates are that it will take $35 million to bring the building back up to par. The District has not made a commitment to renovate the building for an educational use. Nor does it appear to have vetted potential uses with D.C. Public Schools, the Charter School Board, the University of the District of Columbia, or others. Yet, it puts out RFP's and, receiving no proposals to take on a lease without a commitment from the city to make the building habitable, finds that there is "no viable public use."
Here's just a few viable public uses for the Franklin School:
- A gifted-and-talented middle or high school, so that parents of high-achieving students have options other than sending their children to private school or leaving the District.
- A downtown campus for UDC's new community college system or a new facility for its law school.
- A home to one or more charter schools that are seeking space.
- A public high school for Ward 2-area residents (many of whom currently treck up to Wilson High School in Tenleytown), particularly given the growing residential population of downtown.
- A space for nonprofits providing job training and career services programs.
- A facility for teacher training and continuing education.
- Flex space for lectures, conferences, exhibits, performances, and meetings, similar to the use of the Sumner School near Dupont Circle.
That's certainly an enticing position, particularly in this economic climate. But the better long-term solution is to identify a best educational use for the Franklin School and invest, perhaps from District's School Modernization Fund, to make it a model for the 21st Century.
The public hearing on surplusing the Franklin School will be held on Thursday, November 18, 2010, 6:30pm, at Thomson Elementary School (large meeting room in basement), 1200 L Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. Contact persons on this project are Jared Kahn (202) 213-9215 and Nimita Shah (202) 215-3650. You can sign up to testify against the proposed surplusing here.