Around 15-20 residents attended Saturday’s ANC 6B Hill East Task Force Meeting to discuss potential uses for the Eastern Branch building (261 17th Street SE). Six Hill East Task Force members were in attendance – Commissioners Jared Critchfield (6B06), Brian Pate (6B05) and myself along with Resident Members Nick Burger (6B06), Jack Colhoun (6B06) and Kate Wall (6B09). A big thanks to Mt. Moriah Baptist Church for hosting the meeting.
Here is a brief recap:
- A community tour of Eastern Branch has been postponed until the DC Department of General Services can clean bird waste from the second floor of the building. Hopefully, this will happen sometime in spring 2012.
- Chuck Burger, chair of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells’ Eastern Branch Task Force, provided a brief summary of the task force recommendations and discussions. He reminded attendees that the building has 46,000 sq. ft. of space and it would be unlikely that any one tenant or program could fully support and maintain the property.
- Burger was asked to clarify the source of the $13 million estimate for renovating the building. Burger replied that the estimate was done by Forrestor Construction at the city’s request and that the estimate included a total “gutting” and complete refurbishing of the building (completely new roof, pool, basketball court, elevator and entrance). The city could minimally fix the building for a lesser amount but would still not have the funds necessary to operate and maintain the facility. Burger added that the city would probably want to lease the land and anyone taking control of the property would need a long-term, 30 year lease in order to borrow and/or justify making capitol improvements.
- Given the expenses involved and the facility’s challenges, there was some discussion about whether the building should be demolished and replaced with a new, state-of-the-art building. Attendees agreed that the city should get the views and perspectives of neighborhood residents before considering such an option. There was also some talk about demolishing the building and preserving the land as open green space, though Spielberg Park sits right across the street.
- After a general overview of the building, attendees were asked to provide feedback on how programs in the building could meet the needs of various demographic groups.
- Aging Population: Representatives from Capitol Hill Village urged the task force and neighborhood to consider using the space for “Green Houses,” a new residential concept that allows people to “age in place.” The concept envisions the Green Houses being developed at facilities where other programs and activities serving all ages are offered. Potential funding sources are available. Meeting attendees were interested in the idea, particularly if the residential units would only be one use for the building.
- Parents: Daycare was identified as a potential use of the building that would benefit parents, though attendees pointed out that two day care facilities already exist near the 1300 & 1400 blocks of C Street SE. Pre-K and afterschool programming were also suggested as potential uses. The city does envision potentially offering pre-K and afterschool programming at neighborhood schools once the facilities are modernized.
- Children & Teens: Attendees felt there was clearly a need for recreational and sports facilities for youth in the neighborhood and that the building could play a role in meeting this need. However, full size basketball courts and outdoor space exist at Payne Elementary and Eastern High Schools. A lack of resources prevents these existing recreational spaces from being used in the evenings and on weekends. Meeting participants suggested examining if there was a way that existing youth recreational programs could partner with the local schools to open the facilities on weekends, thus allowing the Eastern Branch building to provide other programming. But if school recreational facilities remain unavailable, the city should consider offering recreational activities at Eastern Branch.
- Community & Office Space: Accessible space for community meetings and events is lacking in the neighborhood. Providing incubator office space for attorneys and other professionals could also be a revenue generating use for a portion of the building.
- As for next steps, the Hill East Task Force plans to:
- Conduct an inventory of facilities, programs and services already offered in the blocks surrounding Eastern Branch,
- Develop a survey to get additional feedback on potential uses for the building, with a particular emphasis on gathering responses and input from residents living around the building,
- Plan to invite groups interested in leasing the building to share their ideas at a future meeting on Eastern Branch. The task force will also encourage these groups to put their ideas in writing with details and cost estimates.
- The meeting adjourned at 12:15 pm.