The Graduate School to expand with new campus on D.C.'s Southwest waterfront

The school plans to lease 190,000 square feet at the corner of Maine Avenue and Ninth Street. It will keep its leases at L'Enfant Plaza.
The school plans to lease 190,000 square feet at the corner of Maine Avenue and Ninth Street. It will keep its leases at L'Enfant Plaza. (Courtesy Of Hoffman-madison Waterfront)
The graduate school new location
By Jonathan O'Connell
Capital Business Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 10:43 PM

The Graduate School USA, formerly an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, plans to more than double its physical size in coming years by opening a new campus in a planned redevelopment of the District's Southwest waterfront.

The school serves about 200,000 people annually in mostly non-degree courses, many aimed at preparing them to work in the federal government.

But Jerry Ice, president and chief executive, said the school needs more space. The 47 classrooms the school leases at L'Enfant Plaza are nearly booked every day from early morning until 10 p.m., he said. The school will lease an additional 190,000 square feet - it has about 130,000 now - in a building planned for the corner of Maine Avenue and Ninth Street SW, part of a nearly $2 billion, 10-year project by developers PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette.

"In a sense, there is no more room at the inn," Ice said.

During its time in the USDA, the 90-year-old school became known for its programs aimed at helping working professionals and other students find work or advance their careers within the government. Its offerings include classes on budgeting, human resources, information technology and managing grant programs.

The school became a private, nonprofit institution in 2009 but said it would seek accreditation that would allow it to award bachelor's and master's degrees. It also acquired Southeastern University, which had lost its accreditation.

Ice said Graduate School USA will begin tailoring new programs to meet the needs of city government. "We have not been that kind of provider . . . and we think we are in a good position in a number of key issue areas to provide that locally," he said.

The school also plans to open the doors of its new educational center to other colleges, universities and nonprofit groups offering programs that would help D.C. residents acquire skills needed to compete for local jobs. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and members of the D.C. Council are expected to attend a news conference Thursday to unveil the plans.

For developers of the project, newly dubbed "The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront," Graduate School USA will be an anchor capable of bringing people to the area throughout the day.

"Their mission and campus is a perfect synergy for the waterfront and for our project, in that they are an 18-hours-a-day usage," said Monty Hoffman, chief executive of D.C.-based PN Hoffman. "With that flow coming in, our restaurants, hotels and public uses will all benefit."

The development still requires zoning approval, but Hoffman, who announced plans this week to build a stadium for the Washington Kastles tennis team, said he expects construction to begin late next year in time for the school to open in 2015. Plans also include hotels, restaurants, shops and dockside apartments.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) called the campus a "big win" for the city.

"This enriches the community in Southwest by replacing one college with another so people will be able to continue their education within their community," he said.

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