The community-minded, middle-class neighborhood of Edgewood in Northeast Washington went on alert yesterday, the day after residents learned their community had been named as one of three prime locations for a new city prison.
Reactions from the neighbors, which include universities and three hospitals, including Children's, ranged from flat refusals to accept the jail to earnest discussions about the effect a criminal population would have on the "intellectual hub" of Washington.
Throughout the day, residents compared notes on the potential prison site, which originally was suggested by the city and is now being recommended by the U.S. Justice Department as one of three possible sites. The 22-acre site is near the McMillan Reservoir filtration plant at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue.
The other sites are the old D.C. jail tract at 19th Street and Independence Avenue SE and the St. Elizabeths Hospital in far Southeast.
The federal officials' list of potential sites is the latest round in a months-old battle to force city officials to build a new prison to help ease the chronic problem of crowding at Washington's nine penal institutions.
Arthur Kinkead, 62, a retired munitions specialist and a community activist who lives across North Capitol Street from the proposed prison site, said, "A prison here would destroy the entire community."
"We are a quiet neighborhood of homeowners," he said. "We are saying no to a prison in our neighborhood."
But his neighbor, 65-year-old retired Navy illustrator James McDowell who lives just south of the site on Channing Street NW, was willing to state what he acknowledged was an unpopular view. "A jail has to go somewhere and I don't object to the jail itself being built across the street," he said.
"However, I am concerned that jails bring in people who frequent jails," he added. "It would bring in drugs and a criminal element to our neighborhood, which is the intellectual hub of the city."
The Edgewood neighborhood, lying between Catholic University and the filtration plant, is dominated by modest, two-story, brick row houses.
Robert Mason, past president of the Edgewood Civic Association, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and the new president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, said that his neighbors had successfully opposed construction of a city jail in their community 17 years ago and would oppose a prison.
Washington Hospital Center President Dunlop Ecker said through a spokeswoman, "We expect to discuss this proposal with the other hospitals in the neighborhood. For now, we can say that we are not really happy . . . . "
Children's Hospital took a stronger stand. Public Relations Director Harold Krantz said, "We may consider looking for an alternative site for use by the hospital."
Howard University, just west of the reservoir, also opposed a prison on the site. Howard spokesman Alan Hermesch called the site proposal a "gross abuse of the surrounding community."
He added, "A prison within eye's view of the children at Children's Hospital and patients at the other hospitals and the young men and women on our campus and in our dormitories would certainly degrade the physical, intellectual and emotional well-being of all the people of those institutions," he said.
Officials of Catholic University declined to comment, and those at Trinity College could not be reached for comment. Both institutions are northeast of the proposed prison site. Officials at Veterans Hospital declined to comment.
City Councilman William Spaulding (D-Ward 5), whose ward includes the site, released a statement saying that the prison would not be built there.
"It should not be proposed for that site, it should not be constructed on that site and it will not be built on that site," said Spaulding, who is expected to run for reelection this year.