Capitol Hill's Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE will soon be transformed into the Hill Center - a fully refurbished community center, meeting place and cafe - officially kicking off on Sunday. Built in 1865, the building served wounded and aging Civil War veterans and later was used as a training center for Naval doctors. The structure has fallen into disrepair over the years, though the local ANC continued to use it as a meeting space until just recently. Once at the top of the list of most endangered historic places, the Old Naval Hospital will begin its transformation at Sunday's groundbreaking and "old fashioned ice cream social," beginning at 2 PM. Break out your Sunday best.
After years of debate, the Historic Preservation Review Board in 2009 granted unanimous approval to the historic restoration plans for the hospital, the surrounding fence and the neighboring carriage house, the latter of which in recent years served as a temporary Christmas tree stand. In the 2009 staff report, the HPRB remarks on the architectural integrity of the building, which still has its original windows, roof, interior walls and finishes. The old fence surrounding the property, with period compass circles and stars, was cast by a firm located on the Anacostia river around the time the building was constructed. The architects have undertaken an archeological study to ensure the fence is reconstructed in a historically accurate manner.
When complete, the main building will have 12 rooms to serve as meeting spaces, classrooms, a computer center and even a demonstration kitchen. Several rooms on the second floor will be available for rent to host conferences and events. Sounds like a prime fund-raising space. The adjacent carriage house will be converted to a cafe. BELL Architects, which performed previous updates to the crumbling facade, has led the planning and is responsible for the new design. Gone is the red brick facade, which will be recoated with historic-conforming beige skin.
In February of this year the federal government handed over the property to the District, which will grant a 20-year lease to the The Old Naval Hospital Foundation (ONHF) for use of the building as the Hill Center. ONHF won the right to renovate the building in 2007 after vying for an RFP released by the Office of Property Management (OPM) in 2003; total restoration costs are estimated at $10 million.
The Hill Center builds upon the transformation of the Eastern Market neighborhood, following the recent reopening of the Eastern Market and joining plans for a mixed-use development at Hine Junior High School across the street.
DCMud had a chance to discuss the project with architect, David Bell. Bell explained that Hill Center will receive a rehabilitation tax credit, which holds the architects and construction team to higher standards, including stringent National Park Service review. Bell said it was "challenging...to match up a sustainable design and energy goals with historic preservation" but he believes the Hill Center is a "good candidate to show that you can actually meet both criteria." The best example of these efforts is the heating and air conditioning system the team will use. A normal building requires a cooling tower either on the ground or the rooftop, clearly non-starters for the historic site. The team is instead digging wells, 450 feet deep wells, with piping that will use the natural heat exchange of the ground to create heat in the winter and absorb it in the summer. The process avoids the need for an unsightly cooling tower and is actually more energy efficient because it does not require a gas fired broiler or additional energy-guzzling equipment.
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