By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The federal government has picked Clark Construction Group of Bethesda to build a new headquarters for the Coast Guard on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, the first step in one of the region's largest redevelopment projects.
The $435 million contract, awarded by the General Services Administration, which oversees the government's real estate operations, is the initial phase of a broader $3.4 billion effort to turn the hospital's sprawling campus east of the Anacostia River into the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security.
A groundbreaking for the Coast Guard's facility will be held soon, although GSA officials would not say exactly when, and the service is expected to move to the new buildings in late 2013 or early 2014.
The Coast Guard construction project is getting underway at a time when few developers can get funding and the building industry has suffered some of its deepest job losses in years. Transforming the St. Elizabeths campus into the new Homeland Security headquarters is expected to create 26,000 construction jobs, developers and industry officials said. The entire project is slated to be finished in 2016.
"We've been waiting for this to come, and the fact that it is moving forward is a positive sign," said Albert R. "Butch" Hopkins Jr., president and chief executive of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. "It is coming at a time when there's very little construction. It is a situation where no one's doing work. Now it means people are going to have the chance to work sooner rather than later."
The Homeland Security headquarters will bring together at one secure location more than 14,000 employees currently scattered around the region. But putting the heavily fortified facility in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods has stirred some opposition.
Historic preservation advocates worry that the project could ruin the panoramic views of the city from hospital, which is a national landmark. Others say that the high-security facility will create an unwelcoming feeling in the mostly residential neighborhood adjacent to the site.
The plans call for building most of the Homeland Security facility on the hospital's vacant western campus, which is owned by the federal government. One large building would be constructed on the eastern campus, which is owned by the District. To the tract it owns, the city hopes to lure private businesses, restaurants and shops. There is likely to be a child-care center and gym on the site. The plans also include new parking and roads and widening Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, the gateway to Anacostia.
St. Elizabeths Hospital was built after social reformer Dorothea Dix persuaded Congress in 1852 to provide $100,000 for a model psychiatric hospital. Homeland Security officials were drawn by the site's size and relative seclusion.
Clark also recently received a $229 million contract to build a chemical defense research facility at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.