One law suit and three deadlines later, the District's Department of Real Estate Services (DRES) last week closed out the response period for its Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop the historic Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. With three responses in hand, DRES will set to the task of picking a winning private company or non-profit to renovate the historic building (circa 1881) and operate it as a homeless shelter, capable of serving upwards of 150 people each night. Previously the District ran the building as a homeless shelter between 2000 and 2004.
DRES issued an RFP in January and twice extended the submission deadline, originally set for February 16th and ultimately enforced last Friday, March 26th. According to a spokesperson at DRES, three responses came in by last Friday for the Gales School RFP. Over the course of the next month, DRES will assemble a selection committee comprised of staff and stakeholders such as a representative from the Department of Human Services. The committee will then request best and final offers and should have a decision by late April or early May.
Though DRES could not release the names of the applicants, there is at least one known entity: Central Union Mission. The Mission's bumpy past with the Gales School boils down to concerns over government subsidies going to religious organizations. The America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit claiming an Establishment Clause violation - i.e. separation of church and state - because a previous agreement reportedly would have netted $12 million for the Mission, which requires homeless men to participate in religious services in return for room, board and counseling services.
David Treadwell, Executive Director of the Central Union Mission said it was his understanding that the concerns raised in the lawsuit were mostly related to cash payments suggested in the previous RFP agreement. With a new RFP, the Mission once again submitted a response, calling for an addition to the building of approximately 5,000 s.f. for a new kitchen and classrooms. Treadwell estimated project costs at $12 to $14 million, the details of which would be left to Cox Graae and Spack Architects of Georgetown.
This time around, the ACLU submitted a letter in February to the Mayor's Office and DRES, requesting a deadline extension arguing that given "the unreasonably short time frame for responding to the RFP, it appears to us that the RFP process has been designed to provide an insurmountable advantage to the Mission and its religion-infused shelter services," implying the ACLU will again oppose the transaction.
The Mission's offer will depend on its ability to raise funds for a project that ultimately will not be a revenue creator. The organization could face another lawsuit threat if the deal is perceived to contain any sort of subsidy, a problem that non-religious organizations would not face. At this point it is unclear whether or not the other applicants are secular providers of homeless services.
Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU, said his organization has no problem with religious organizations running social services. The problem is when those services are only offered in exchange for "hellfire and brimstone" proselytizing services. Ultimately, Spitzer said, he "hopes they have made this into a fair process" and if it is, and if the Mission wins, then "perhaps that will be OK."
The DRES will weigh the operational and financial benefits proposed by the responses to determine what is "in the best interest of the District." DRES is looking for an organization with a track record of past successes in providing homeless services, which could ultimately mean a religious entity as long as the deal is not so sweet as to raise the ire of the dogged ACLU.
Washington, DC real estate development news