The D.C. government plans to complete a controversial purchase of a Georgetown mansion to house mentally and emotionally disturbed children this week and open it by Oct. 1, three months earlier than city officials have told residents during community meetings.
D.C. Department of Human Services spokesman Charles Seigel said last night that the $2.9 million purchase of the mansion, the Hurt Home for the Blind at 3050 R St. NW, will take place today or Friday. He said the city had always wanted the facility to be a symbol of its new mental health service system for young people and to open it on Oct. 1, the day the federal government transfers St. Elizabeths, the nation's largest public mental hospital, to the control of the District.
The news shocked some Georgetown residents, who were told at two community meetings that the city planned to complete the purchase of the facility on Oct. 28 and open it in January. Members of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, a community group, were seeking ways to block the city's plan for the home when they learned that the settlement day had been moved up.
"The minute someone doesn't swallow what they are saying, they resort to lying and a change of plans," said Citizens Association President Kathleen Graff. "I think it is very sneaky."
Most of the 70 association members who discussed the home Monday night with city officials opposed the city's plan, saying they were concerned about where the children would play, security and how well the facility would be run.
An Advisory Neighborhood Commission, however, has agreed to work with the city, provided that its concerns about parking and community participation in the decision are addressed adequately.
Seigel said the decision to move up the purchase of the home was merely a change in schedule and in no way was influenced by community opposition.
"We feel we are working with the community and their concerns," said Seigel. "The change in date is not related to community opposition. We are not trying to hide the fact that we are trying to close in the next day or two. We merely want to do it as quickly as possible because we want to open as close to Oct. 1 as possible."
The city plans to house 24 emotionally disturbed children, ages 8 to 14, in the 32-room, three-story brick mansion.
Until now, the city has had no residential facility for youths and has placed them in facilities as far away as Texas. City officials maintain that placing children close to home where relatives and friends can visit with them has been shown to aid treatment.
In addition to the youth facility, the city plans to increase the number of residential facilities in other parts of the city for mentally ill patients who are now at St. Elizabeths. City officials say they have established a system for educating residents about plans for new residential facilities and are attending more community meetings to inform residents of what to expect and to tell them how homes would be operated.
But some Georgetown residents said that their notification about the city's plans for the Hurt Home came too late for residents to give their views.
"We think this is not the right site," said Richard Sandza, who is heading a Citizens Association of Georgetown committee to explore ways to oppose the facility. "We think this is the wrong use. We don't think it is right for the kids. They need some place to play other than a public park."