Federal Agencies to Get First Shot at Naval Hospital

Posted February 14, 2003 at 3:01pm

Federal agencies will get priority over nongovernmental groups seeking to use the Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill, according to an official in D.C.’s Office of Property Management.

Aimee Occhetti, special assistant to the director of property management, made the announcement at a Feb. 12 meeting of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. The meeting had been called so nonprofits could present their plans for the building’s renovation.

The change will halt the request-for-proposals process for now. Occhetti couldn’t say for sure when the RFP process would begin, saying “things always seem to end up taking longer” than expected when federal agencies are involved.

The building, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, is owned by the General Services Administration, but the agency hasn’t taken an active role in its management since jurisdiction was transferred to the District’s property management office in 1966.

Several nongovernmental groups expressed interest in restoring the Civil War-era building, and last August, the property management office said it would release a request for proposals to renovate the dilapidated structure within four to five months.

However, the GSA began talking to District officials in November. Occhetti said although GSA officials think it is unlikely a federal agency could use the 16,000-square-foot building because of its small size and the relative lack of parking, they still wanted to review their options.

Despite the announced delay, St. Mary’s College and the Old Naval Hospital Foundation presented their plans at the meeting. Two other groups that had previously expressed interest — the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and the The Naval Medical Museum — did not make presentations.

St. Mary’s would like to use the former hospital for a Semester in Washington program it would lead with a consortium of colleges.

“I am impressed by the sacred space [the Old Naval Hospital] seems to conjure,” Larry Vote, acting provost of St. Mary’s College, said before beginning the college’s presentation. “It is very much worth the effort to keep it within the community.”

Vote promised the program would integrate community services and gathering space within the building.

The Old Naval Hospital Foundation would like to create an expanded public library for Southeast D.C., which would feature Internet access and after-school homework programs, meeting and performance space, a public garden, and office space for “neighborhood organizations.”

The building was constructed in 1866 and is being considered for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2003.

After the Naval hospital closed in 1907, the building was used as a hospital corps training school and a temporary home for veterans. More recently, it has been used by district agencies and local organizations. It gained recognition in 2001 as a possible site for D.C.’s proposed mayoral mansion, but local groups have since expressed interest in retaining the building for community use.

The former hospital was designated as one of the 10 most endangered historical sites in D.C. as early as 1998. However, no renovations could occur until the city decided how the building should be used. In 2001, Friends of the Old Naval Hospital conducted a survey and concluded that the damage was mostly superficial and did not include structural damage.

“We shrug and sigh, and say, ‘Oh it’s too bad,’” Niky Cimrot, president of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals Community Foundation, said about the former hospital. “But thanks to efforts of the Old Naval Hospital Foundation, we have stopped ignoring this historic building.”

An Urban Land Institute survey conducted in April for the Friends of the Old Naval Hospital estimated that the costs of renovating the hospital would total about $6 million. Additionally, for a nonprofit use, ULI estimated an organization would require an annual endowment of $9 million to $10 million.

St. Mary’s did not address their funding sources specifically, but Cimrot estimated that after city and federal funding, ONHF would need to raise $5 million from corporate and community sources.