In the last few months, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has moved closer to completing a Master Plan for St. Elizabeth's West Campus in Anacostia, the future home for the headquarters of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard. The final Master Plan is now projected for submission in January of 2008.
GSA presented a Draft Master Plan, which included four separate designs for the campus, to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) back in August of this year. In return, GSA has now received feedback from the organization regarding its qualifications, changes which will be included in the final version.
NCPC's comments on the design plan were extensive. Members of the Commission were partial to design 4 (pictured above), although the Executive Director's recommendation includes a request for more information "with regard to access and site screening impacts of each alternative" before a final decision can be made on the historic property. NCPC has also required modifications to "minimize the major, long-term, adverse impacts to the West Campus of St. Elizabeths," according to NCPC files. Some of these modifications include: the relocation of parking structures off-campus or below grade, the reduction of overall building heights and (my favorite) the reduction of the visual impact of the U.S. Coast Guard building by "modifying its massing, sitting and monolithic appearance."
The major impediment for the project is St. Elizabeth's designation in 1990 as a National Historic Landmark. The campus was established in 1855 by U.S. Congress as the first federal hospital for the insane. In later years, the site served as a hospital for Civil War soldiers; those that died were buried on-site in a now historic Civil War cemetery.
The St. Elizabeth's West Campus is currently home to 61 buildings, most of which were built before 1915, which house more than 1.1 million s.f. of space. GSA is proposing to restore about 75% of the existing buildings, and add roughly 3.7 million s.f. of new space to the 176 acre site. However, some worry that a development of this magnitude would overwhelm the historic features of the property; NCPC hopes to alleviate these concerns by heavily reviewing the designs in order to implement a unique plan that can accommodate historic placement.
Although design plans may not have been chosen, one thing is certain: the Department of Homeland Security needs a headquarters, and soon. Michael McGill, Public Affairs Officer for GSA's National Capitol Region explained why: "[DHS needs] a close proximity of decision makers to coordinate quickly and act. They need to establish a common culture, which requires that they assemble this critical mass." The current structure of America's favorite governmental organization is a widely scattered array of 18,000 employees housed in over 6.5 million s.f. of office space in 50 separate locations which are interspersed throughout the city.
GSA owns more than 95 million s.f. of space in the National Capitol region, of which 53 million is for lease. Jones Lang LaSalle is coordinating development the St Elizabeth's site, while The Smith Group is responsible for drafting the Master Plan; Perkins + Will will design the Coast Guard Headquarters.