Franklin School – Get Off The PotPosted on August 15th, 2011 1 comment
This morning’s news roundup on Greater Greater Washington included this link to a story in the Examiner (ugh, I hate linking there) about the long-suffering Franklin School. As the former ANC Commissioner for 2F03, in which Franklin School is located, I dealt with this issue a few times during the most recent round of RFPs. The city received several proposals during that process, including one from the Yu Ying Charter School, as well as at least one from a private developer intent on creating a boutique hotel. There was at least one other hotel proposal being floated at the time, although I don’t know whether it was every finally proposed.
As the Examiner article states, capital funding is a huge issue on this project, given both the extreme historic protections on the building and the decades of neglect and abuse it has now sat through. The city quickly ruled out the ability of the Yu Ying school to realistically fund the project, and appeared intent on settling on a hotel. Finally, after years and years, a derelict block in the midst of downtown would be activated!
And then came the community activists.
Well-meaning folks like Joe Browne from the Goethe Institute, the former city-dweller Cary Silverman, and even Greater Greater Washington, began writing, blogging, and petitioning the mayor’s office and the council to halt the processes so that more study could be done about potential public uses for the building. Everything from a school of architecture to a return-to-service as the city’s downtown homeless shelter were suddenly thrown back onto the heap – just as they had during the prior rounds of RFPs. The process stalled yet again, and here we are more than a year later: back at square one. Sadly, as great as all of these community-generated ideas are, they each lack any realistic mechanism to actually accomplish their goal. No funding, no plans, no consensus, no popular support. Nothing. Just great ideas and no way to implement them.
To be clear, I am not saying these folks are directly responsible for the failure of the last round of proposals. I don’t know precisely why the project has stalled again, and I would place blame on the wicked recession and tenuous economic outlook before them. What I am saying is that these folks are needlessly hindering an already difficult process with pipe dreams.
It’s time for them to get off the pot. Would I love to see the building converted to a school or some other public use? Of course – who wouldn’t? Is that realistically going to happen any time in the next decade? Not if history is any guide. A boutique hotel isn’t anyone’s first choice, but it is far better than the sad, empty facade that sits there now.
Nice article. I agree that in this case, action would be better than the idleness and indecision has unfortunately delayed progress of any kind with the Franklin School. As an architect and someone with a strong admiration for this building, ideally I would like to see this building remain in public use but I will take what I can get in the name of preservation.
Too often, We, as concerned community members and citizens get caught up in wanting what would be an ideal solution without the perspective of how it may effect later outcomes. Historic Review Boards, Zoning regulations, and even sometimes ANCs, being afraid of what “may change” fail to act or consider the possibility that that change could be for the best. There are good and bad examples of such throughout our neighborhoods. The ANC’s firm stand on development in Logan Circle ultimately resulted in the beautiful, thoughtful and appropriate renovation of the townhome on the corner of P St. and the Circle; while historic restrictions an antiquated zoning regulation is keeping any business, public or private from re purposing the Mansion at 16th and Corcoran (former Green Door Clubhouse) because it can only be sold to a non-profit institution (and development dollars are difficult to come by these days).
There should always be time to listen to all sides of the argument and for our law makers and public servants to consider the needs of the community before making decisions. However, not everyone is going to be happy about those decisions all of the time. It is important to remember that communities and buildings are built to change and evolve. The best communities grow over time and are enriched by all who live, work, or travel there (as opposed to the uncomfortable feeling you get at the National Harbor development – Peeps store aside). However, careful planning understanding this evolution and possibility of change help private development from making decisions contrary to the success of the neighborhood.
In the case of the Franklin School, as a public building and landmark, whatever the ultimate outcome, it needs to benefit the public good. If the result is private sale to a private institution, those dollars should possibly be used to enhance our own public school system – the original goal of the building in the first place. There can be compromise, but the priority for everyone involved should be to get this building working again – vacant buildings will fall into disrepair very quickly and Historic designation or not, we need action.
As you know, The Franklin School is my favorite building in the city and I would like nothing more than to turn it into a Charter School or public educational foundation, but more, I want to see it preserved and occupied.