Two separate plans have surfaced for the 73-year-old B.B. French School at 7th and G St. SE. Both plans have support from influential Capitol Hill community groups and are being forwarded to the D.C. City Council for a final decision.
One proposal, endorsed recently by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, would allow the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop to lease the building which has not been used as a school since 1942 and has been vacant for 15 years, for workship classes. The Arts Workshops teaches dance, music and other arts to about 300 students, both children and adults.
The other plan, proposed by the D.C. Department of General Services and Earl GOdfrey, who lives next door to the delapidated building, is to sell the property to the highest bidder. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society voted unanimously at its November meeting to recommend the property be sold as surplus - which meant it would have to be sold at public auction or by sealed bids - provided the building is preserved and used for residential purposes.
The council currently is considering a resolution that would authorize the mayor to sell the property.
Also City Council member Arrington Dixon plans to introduce legislation allowing the mayor to consider teh needs of community groups before disposing of surplus buildings, according to a Dixon aide. It is uncertain whether the council will consider this legislation before it acts on the properties now up for disposal. In addition to the French School, these include the 7th Precinct Police Station in Geogetownand the 9th Precinct Police Station in Northeast.
The city's General Services Department has complained that the French School is "a maintenanace burden." At a public hearing held Oct. 26 by the council's Government Operations Committee, Sam D. Starobin, head of the General Service Department, recommended that the building be sold. He said that his department had canvassed all D.C. government agencies and could find none that wanted the building.
"It could be warning tax money," said Starovin. "Instead, it requires maintenance."
Department of General Services officials say the current maintenance costs for the empty building - including cutting grass and occasionally boarding up windows - are about $50 per month.
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop Director, Sally Crowell, who also attended the hearing, told the committee her arts group needs more space, and she asked the committee to allow the workshop to lease the building or buy it at the fair market value to return for renovating and maintenance it.
"A private developer could easily outbid any non-profit like ours," Crowell said.
Godfrey, who said he lived next door to the building for 17 years told the committee it was "time to sell."
"For the council to delay further would be unreasonable," he said. He also said he would not object to any use that would be compatible with the current R-4 zoning of the building.
Under R-4 zoning, three apartments or one town house could be place on the site. Because the property is within the Capitol Hill Historici District, however, a developer who wanted to raze the building could be subject to a possible 180-day delay-in-demolition order.
According to Donald Croll, a Department of General Services official in charge of real estate, about 20 parties have expressed an interest in buying the property.
Crowell said she thought her group could obtain the necessary zoning variance because it planned "structured classes" instead of a community center. The arts workshop would renovate the building at its expense, according to Crowell. She estimated the group could get the building into usable shape for about $50,000 and said she was confident the money could be raised.
Richard Parsons, the sub-contractor who made this estimate, said he and other professionals would donate their services. Painting, clean-up and similar work would be done by volunteers.
However, Croll estimated the cost of rehabilitating the building at $150,000.
"I don't think we would entertain a lease in the case," Croll said in a telephone interview. "The building is vacant and has been vandalized, and the proposed use is contrary to zoning."
Croll said the only way the arts: group could obtain use of the building - other than outbidding other buyers - would be through D.C. City Council or Congressional legislation. He said a precedent for Congressional legislation occured in the case of the Phillips School in Georgetown, which was sold to the Washington International School at its fair market value under a special act of Congress. The fair market value of the French School, at determined by DGS appraisers last year, is $21,000, through Croll said he thinks the property could being much more.
This is the third time in about 10 years that the issue of what to do with the abandoned building has been raised. In 1968, and again in 1971, the District government tried to have the property declared surplus. Both times, citizens groups persuaded the coundil to retain the property for community use.
In 1968, the Board of Zoning Adjustment refuses to grant a zoning variance to allow a community center in the building, largely because the building's immediate neighbors objected. In 1971, a plan to move the Southeast Branch Library to the Building and to the turn the present library building into a community center died for a lack of funds.