Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Homeland Security HQ Inches Forward

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.


IMGoph on Nov 21, 2007, 12:45:00 PM said...

why is it a given that DHS needs a lot of space, and now. we don't even know if this behemoth of an organization is even worth keeping around. there have been constant rumblings of splitting FEMA off of this agglomeration, and who knows what a new administration might want to do to DHS to put their own mark on it.

the shame is that, once some new HUGE thing is added to the federal bureaucracy, we treat it like a permanent member of the family. it would behoove us to think of DHS (or any other federal agency) as something that was created FOR THE PEOPLE and not for the sake of the bureaucracy.

if it turns out that some organization isn't needed, or should be radically changed from its current configuration, then we should be able to do so. by creating a ridiculously HUGE campus for DHS, we guarantee that it will remain HUGE, whether it's needed or not, because there will have to be some reason to justify all of that damn office space.

the taxpayers are getting soaked on this one, plain and simple.

Ken on Nov 21, 2007, 2:32:00 PM said...


Trust me, its not going away. Federal entities have their own immutable laws of physics - they may be created, but they may not be destroyed. Witness the old ICC, created to govern the railroads. In the '80's it became clear the agency was an anachronism, to the point that even the Chairman of the ICC was pushing for its dissolution, and still it limped onward.

On the positive side, it is far more efficient for an agency to be located in one spot, rather than traipse around town to communicate, so it will likely stay there a long time. At least until Sen. Byrd moves it to West Virginia with the rest of the federal government.

Anonymous said...

DHS moving to St. Elizabeths? I was not aware of that.

IMGoph on Dec 3, 2007, 1:40:00 PM said...

reading other articles about st. elizabeths now, it's a shame that UDC didn't end up there. it would be perfect as a college campus.

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