Friday, May 08, 2009

Historic Hill Hospital Going under the Knife

The Old Naval Hospital Foundation (ONHF), working in tandem with the Office of Property Management (OPM), is growing closer to a final design concept for the restoration of one of the District’s oldest medical facilities, the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. If all goes according to plan, the 145-year-old, Civil War-era institution, which has gone largely unused since 1999, will re-emerge as the Hill Center - a non-profit educational facility for "lifelong learning, cultural enrichment and community life."

Part and parcel with the Hill Center’s mission statement will be a complete refurbishment of the hospital and its grounds. BELL Architects is planning, since condos are probably out of the question, that the building’s top floor will be devoted to office space for community organizations, while the remainder of rooms will be retrofitted for all-purpose uses, capable of hosting “meetings, workshops, lectures, recitals, after-school tutoring, art exhibits, receptions and the many other functions and events that make a neighborhood a community.”

The ONHF has already secured sponsorship from the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and Capitol Hill Computer Center for select events. Meanwhile, the carriage house adjoining the main building will converted into “a family-friendly cafĂ©.” According to architect David Bell, the “project’s goal is to create a community center that doubles a commercial building, in keeping with the scale and shape of the original building.”

But similar plans have appeared - and evaporated - before. OPM first announced their intent to restore the property in 2002 and have vetted several projects, but some area residents expressed concerns that the project is now moving too fast at last month’s meeting of the ANC 6B and cited the need for more community input. Members of the project team, however, were quick to disagree.

“Take a look around. This building is deteriorating,” Bell told the commission. “I’m concerned [that the longer we wait] the more difficult and expensive this will be.”

The ANC subsequently approved the design. However, according to Ann Brockett of the Historic Preservation Review Board, the project has yet to be scheduled for HPRB review – a process that can take anywhere from weeks to (gulp) years. Nonetheless, the ONHF is optimistic that they will soon be making headway on the renovation. “If all goes as planned with leasing, permitting and construction,” reads their project plan, “the Center will be open and operating at the beginning of 2011.”


Anonymous said...

Well, that drawing at the top of this item did NOT receive approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board. Maybe David Bell could provide you with a more contemporary version of the plans.

Obviously the Hill Center honchos agreed that there is need for more community input. They held a belated community meeting (weirdly, AFTER the ANC-6B meeting where they sought approval of their plans), and have now promised to schedule a meeting in June on programming in the Hill Center.

It seems like a big barrier to progress rests with the simple fact that the Federal government has held up transfer of the grounds until such time as the District hands over 12 acres to the Architect of the Capitol for a mail-sorting facility. Any news on when that will happen? The city, wisely, has declined to finalize the lease with the Hill Center until that issue with the Feds has been resolved.

Finally, both Mayor Adrian Fenty and new City Administrator Neil O. Albert have been laudable in their commitment to insure that the Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Community Action Group (CAG), which has been doing such great service out of the CAG Carriage House on those grounds for the past 20 years, is not kicked to the curb by the Hill Center. Mayor Fenty's promise: "CAG does not have to leave the Carriage House until the city has found an appropriate place for CAG headquarters nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue SE." Has the Hill Center made any effort to help move CAG to an appropriate new spot on Pennsylvania Avenue SE? If they want to see progress, maybe they should concentrate on that. Time's a-waisting!


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