New residence hall could be just the start for Armed Forces home

The final touches of carpet, paint and trim are being added to a new $80 million residence hall for veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, a sprawling green campus off of North Capitol Street.

The 160,000-square-foot building provides 36 rooms for long-term skilled nursing care and 24 rooms for patients who need memory support. The building also has views of the Washington Monument.

Often referred to as the Old Soldiers’ Home, the facility was established in 1851 to care for retired veterans. The new Scott House was designed by architects at Cooper Carry and built by Hensel Phelps Construction Co., and it includes rooftop gardens, sunlit common areas, a library and rooms arranged to allow patients to be cared for in five groups, or “small houses,” aimed at giving a home-like feel to residents suffering from memory loss.

“We’re essentially pioneering this concept,” said Kenneth H. Brown, senior associate at Cooper Carry.

But the new Scott House is just a first step. In 2008 officials approved a master plan for the 272-acre campus allowing 4.8 million square feet of development along North Capitol and Irving streets. Crescent Resources was chosen as the developer, but the partnership fizzled after the financial collapse.

The need for the home to generate new revenue, however, has not disappeared, and it also is trying to better integrate the site with surrounding neighborhoods. In coming years, the home will begin receiving the eldest veterans of the country’s wars in the Middle East, who are likely to require care for amputations and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To replace the old Scott House, the home dipped into its trust fund. As a result, the fund’s balance was $186 million at the end of the 2010 fiscal year, but was only $115 million at the end of 2012.

Sheila R. Abarr, spokeswoman for the home, said the organization is unlikely to use the funds to finance another major project. On top of capital needs, sequestration forced about $3.3 million in cuts to operations, and the home is still repairing damage from the 2011 earthquake. Abarr said the home is having its land appraised and expects to receive results later this year. Metro, which needs a new bus garage, may be an interested buyer, but Abarr said the home told Metro that the land would not be divided. “We made it clear we’re not parceling anything,” she said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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