Georgetown Current

Georgetown University Unveils Draft Campus Plan

June 8, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown University will continue its current undergraduate enrollment levels through 2036; continue moving undergraduates out of neighborhood rental properties; and gradually increase its numbers of graduate students, faculty and staff, officials said Monday.

The school that day unveiled its draft campus plan, which was developed in partnership with Georgetown, Burleith and Foxhall community leaders, as well as university students. Universities in residential areas must periodically produce these plans for review by the Zoning Commission, which ensures that the schools aren’t causing undue impacts on their communities.

While campus plans are often contentious — as Georgetown’s have been in the past — the school has most recently been working closely with neighbors to minimize opposition. The current campus plan, adopted in 2012 and expiring next year, won unanimous support after the university agreed to house more undergraduates on campus and invest more in protecting the neighborhood from noise, trash and traffic impacts.

“Being able to hear each other and not talk past each other has enabled us to get to where we are today,” Chris Murphy, the university’s vice president for government relations and community engagement, told residents at Monday’s presentation. A few dozen residents attended the meeting, and only a handful had any questions or concerns.

“Three years ago, this room would have been overflowing with people complaining about the conditions on the streets,” Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Ron Lewis told The Current. “The fact that this is a small meeting speaks to the improvements that have been made.”

The proposed 2017-2036 campus plan keeps the university on the same trajectory as in recent years, continuing toward a goal of keeping undergraduate activity on campus. In the last five years, the university created 385 new on-campus beds. An additional 244 undergrads will be accommodated outside of the neighborhoods by 2036 — on campus or elsewhere — leaving just 10 percent living in private residences near the campus. The school also will renovate existing dorms and increase on-campus amenities to attract students who would otherwise prefer to live elsewhere.

“What the students have been very articulate about is that they’re not opposed to living on campus, but they want it to be in an attractive, marketable place,” said Murphy. “There will always be a number of students who don’t want to live on campus … but our goal and our challenge is to make them want to live on campus.”

The university already added an on-campus pub as part of the current campus plan, providing a late-night gathering spot that students wouldn’t need to pass through the neighborhood to patronize. The campus plan also calls for a “student life corridor” to replace a maintenance building and cluttered parking area along the stretch of Tondorf Road that passes between Harbin Hall and Cooper Field, creating a more inviting way for students to travel between different activity areas.

The university intends to ask the Zoning Commission for flexibility on many of its plans for changes to buildings. It does plan to tear down the aging Yates Field House but is open to various uses for a replacement facility. The Reiss Science Building could be renovated for academic use, or razed and replaced with anything from classrooms to dorms.

Additionally, the university isn’t specifically committing to adding further dorm capacity on campus. Officials said other strategies for bringing students out of the neighborhood could include sending students abroad or to satellite facilities; the only fixed requirement would be that 90 percent of undergraduates would live on campus or outside of the 20007 ZIP code.

Undergraduate enrollment would remain capped at 6,675 students throughout the new 20-year plan, and medical students would still be limited to 830. The total student cap would remain at 14,106 for the Georgetown campus, allowing an increase of about 2,000 graduate students.

Officials said Monday that this growth would come gradually as new programs are introduced, and that they expect many of these programs to attract students who wouldn’t live near the campus or even come to it frequently. To serve the new students, the university also will request a faculty and staff increase from 4,150 employees to up to 4,565, an increase they also expect to be gradual.

In response to community questions about graduate student housing, the university’s Robin Morey said that’s not part of the campus plan but that the school is nonetheless looking into the situation. “We do know that it would be in our interest to find a community for our graduate students,” he said. “Where that community would be remains to be seen.”

Morey said areas downtown or otherwise near Metro stations would likely be the best option, and he said the university is also looking to expand a small residential program it already coordinates in Rosslyn, Va.

The campus plan also will include the planned expansion of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, which includes construction of a new surgical wing on the site of a surface parking lot. The project also includes new green space and an underground parking garage, and hospital president Michael Sachtleben said Monday MedStar hopes to break ground in mid- to late 2017 and open the facility for patients in 2020. The expansion also will provide capacity for existing hospital facilities to close temporarily for renovation, he said. Over the 20-year life of the campus plan, hospital staffing levels are expected to grow from 4,414 to 5,119 employees, according to university documents.

The draft campus plan and a summary are available at campusplan.georgetown.edu, where residents can also submit questions or comments until July 6.

The two advisory neighborhood commissions adjoining the university — ANC 2E and ANC 3D — will vote on the draft plan in August; the school expects to submit it to the Zoning Commission in September, and hopes the commission will approve it in late 2016 or early 2017.

This article appears in the June 8 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Audit Details Cost Overruns at Ellington

June 1, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

A 2015 report from the D.C. auditor looked into why the Duke Ellington School of the Arts modernization project had gone $107 million over its allotted $78 million budget. A new auditor report released yesterday added new details, linking the budget woes to a failure of city agencies to consult with the D.C. Council.

The report notes that agencies considered two alternative sites for creating a modernized facility for Ellington before deciding to keep the arts magnet school at its existing Burleith location — where, according to the latest schedule, the renovation will wrap up in time for the upcoming school year. Both the Ellington Field, three blocks from the school at 38th and R streets NW, and the Logan School, at 215 G St. NE near Union Station, came up as possible new locations, but agencies didn’t give the public or the council an opportunity to review them before deciding to build on the existing Ellington school site, according to the report.

“I think that such a major decision as where to locate a citywide performing arts school was not publicly debated and thoroughly vetted by the council is pretty surprising,” D.C. auditor Kathy Patterson told The Current in an interview Tuesday. Her latest report — the third of its kind on school modernizations — represents her attempt to make up for her office’s failure to produce such annual reports as mandated in 2006 legislation.

Agencies nixed the Ellington Field possibility following community opposition, according to the report. But a major lingering question the report leaves unanswered is why then-Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson rejected the Logan School site. Patterson told The Current she thinks Gray and Henderson could answer that question, but the answer is nowhere else to be found.

“We weren’t able to track down any discussion or minutes or emails or reports that said, ‘Here’s why,’” Patterson said. “Our point is that it’s not part of the public record.”

Though exceeding the budget by $100 million seems high to many observers, the report suggests that the council might have approved a $178 million project had it been presented that way before work got underway. But the “piecemeal approach” to completing the work indicates mismanagement, according to the report.

The latest audit also points out that the amount of square feet of performance space per student at the new Ellington school — approximately 466 — far exceeds averages for similar schools in urban districts nationwide, which range from 136 to 240. The report says the council might have suggested an alternative, more cost-effective approach to this aspect of the project if legislators had the chance to review it in advance.

After laying out its findings, the auditor’s report calls for greater transparency from agencies on project costs, a more comprehensive system of policies and procedures for modernization projects, and the completion of “education specifications” for modernization projects before they can be included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

The Department of General Services provided responses to several of the report’s claims within the text of the report. The agency plans to consult multiple management firms about school modernizations in the future, rather than only one. Other refinements of agency procedures are also in the works, according to the report.

A spokesperson of the agency was unable to respond to questions yesterday afternoon, and officials at the council’s Committee on Education did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Patterson plans to continue releasing one audit each year and, with the Ellington report, to closely monitor agencies’ responses. The promises of improvement from the Department of General Services is a strong first step, she said.

“To the extent that the council weighs in on the need to have greater cost consciousness, I think the agencies will comply,” Patterson said.

This article appears in the June 1 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Agency Offers Revised Plan for Georgetown Streetcar

May 24, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The District’s first stretch of streetcar finally began running a few months ago along H Street NE, following years of delays spread over several mayoral administrations. Officials are now pressing forward with plans to extend that line to Georgetown, and released last week a revised proposal that relies on more dedicated lanes — as opposed to sharing space with other traffic — than past designs did.

Under the latest design, the new line would run 3.5 miles along the K Street corridor, from 3rd Street NE to just west of 34th Street NW, and the battery-powered streetcars would recharge using overhead wires located only under the Whitehurst Freeway and at stations. The goal of the streetcar line is to provide “improved reliability and enhanced mobility” to downtown travelers,” according to the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The streetcar would travel under the Whitehurst Freeway and along K Street past Mount Vernon Square before turning onto New Jersey Avenue NW and then H Street, ultimately reaching Union Station. Under the latest design option, dedicated streetcar travel lanes would be in place for much of that route, aside from within Mount Vernon Square, where it would share the road with other vehicles.

Advantages to this alternative include faster service and more reliability, while disadvantages include technological limitations on how long the streetcars can operate without recharging, according to the Transportation Department. Will Handsfield, transportation director at the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said he prefers this alternative.

“It’s the best way to get a predictable travel time between Georgetown and Union Station,” Handsfield said. “We believe that having a short and predictable travel time will be incredibly valuable.”

Alternatives that mix streetcars and Metrobuses in the same lane are feasible but would present more difficulties and potentially make the commute less pleasant, Handsfield said. Such alternatives would also require the streetcar to run for a longer stretch along an elevated wire that some observers have deemed ugly. Handsfield said his organization doesn’t foresee aesthetic objections in the neighborhood because the neighborhood already has a “looming” structure — the Whitehurst Freeway. But he’s happy to see the agency take into account concerns from stakeholders closer to downtown.

There are downsides to a hybrid approach that mixes wired and off-wire sections of the streetcar line, however; the Transportation Department warns that it could make costs potentially prohibitive and reduce reliability. Additionally, this design alternative lacks precedent in other major U.S. cities, increasing the risk of complications, according to the agency.

Dedicated lanes would take up the two existing center lanes on K Street NW, leaving the remaining lanes and parking availability intact. The stretch of K Street between 25th and 27th streets NW would have one fewer traffic lane in each direction, and the current plan calls for just one lane of general traffic in each direction in the stretch under Washington Circle.

Patrick Kennedy, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), told The Current he thinks the Union-to-Georgetown extension will justify the entire streetcar initiative and provide a valuable east-west transportation option downtown.

Of the available alternatives, Kennedy strongly favors the one with the largest percentage of dedicated streetcar lanes. His biggest concern going forward is the configuration of the route under Washington Circle. Given the numerous changes that have been made to improve traffic flow in that portion of Foggy Bottom, Kennedy worries that taking up two of the four lanes in that stretch of K Street under the circle could once again cause traffic headaches.

“I think it’s potentially doable, and it certainly would provide a high quality of service for streetcar users. I want to make it work,” he said. “But it’s a little early to say whether it’s feasible given the impact that it might have on traffic. I look forward to seeing what DDOT can put together with that.”

He’s more favorably disposed to the presented possibility of a proposed right-turn loop ramp for drivers who wish to turn left onto 27th Street from westbound K Street, to prevent drivers from intersecting the dedicated streetcar lane. And he also plans to keep his eye on the design of the spot at 24th and K streets NW, which falls within the Foggy Bottom Historic District and will be subject to scrutiny from neighbors.

Bill Starrels of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) told The Current he’s excited about the streetcar in principle but hopes it proves more practical and efficient than the existing one on H Street. He also thinks reconfiguring the lane structure on K Street will prove a challenge, and that aesthetic considerations need to be at the forefront of future discussions.

“They need to have streetcars that don’t require a lot of wires like they used to,” Starrels said. “That’s a deal-killer from a [Commission of] Fine Arts perspective.”

The Transportation Department is currently in the midst of a federally mandated National Environmental Policy Act evaluation for the project. After initiating the process in July 2014, the agency began public outreach in the fall of that year and now is nearing the final stretch of the environmental assessment. A completed version of that assessment will be published and available for public comment early next year, the agency said. A final decision document is expected next summer, with another public meeting on the project tentatively set for this fall.

This article appears in the May 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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