George Washington University has angered White House officials by refusing a request to allow more than 3,000 reporters and technicians covering next month's superpower summit to use the university's gym for a media center.

The university's rejection leaves federal officials up in the air as to where they will find office space for the thousands of out-of-town journalists expected here to cover the event, Dec. 8-10, officials said, because downtown hotel ballrooms and other large facilities are booked.

GW's Smith Center was the first choice of representatives of the White House and the U.S. Information Agency planning the press center because of its spaciousness and location six blocks from the White House.

University President Lloyd Elliott twice rejected the federal officials' requests -- the second time Friday -- because he concluded it would prevent students' and employes' use of the building for two weeks and would force cancellation of 41 classes and the relocation of 23 others, a university spokesman said.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater lashed out at the decision Friday, saying it stemmed from "a very narrow-minded attitude, and {was} a black eye for George Washington University's international studies program." University officials "can't recognize the value of General Secretary Gorbachev and the foreign minister of the Soviet Union and the secretary of state on their campus," he said.

Assistant press secretary Mark Weinberg's comments yesterday were less sharp. "We were disappointed by the decision," he said. "We'd hoped {the university} would be good neighbors and help us out."

The decision leaves the government with very few alternatives.

The Washington Convention Center is having a car show, and all the downtown hotels have been reserved for months with conferences and Christmas parties. Some other auditoriums, such as Constitution Hall, are inappropriate because they are either too small or have chairs bolted to the floor. The media complex will need extensive telephone and computer cables, and sufficient floor space to accommodate the bulky equipment used by the broadcast media.

The huge Pension Building at Fifth and G streets NW, which is owned by the federal government and which houses the National Building Museum, cannot accommodate more than 1,600 people because of fire codes and is reserved for the site of a television Christmas show that week, a museum spokesman said.

The rejection leaves USIA, which ultimately has the job of finding a location, back at square one. Officials said they may have to forgo setting up a central media center -- where journalists write their stories -- but establish a media briefing center and have reporters return to their hotel rooms to write.

"People book sites here years in advance, but with a summit, you don't have that kind of advance timing," said Robert Garrity, USIA's director of foreign media centers. A main attraction of a central media facility, he said, is having U.S. and foreign journalists in the same place.

"I think the students {at GW} have lost a wonderful opportunity to take part in a very historic event," Garrity said.

But university officials said that criticism is unfair.

"There were a number of 'pros' for having the event there, but they were outweighed by the 'cons,' " said university spokesman Charlotte Ericson. "We put an awful lot of time into considering it . . . . I don't feel the question of diplomacy rests on the shoulders of the university and its decision-makers."

Setting up the media complex at Smith Center, at 600 22nd St. NW, would have meant canceling seven men's and women's "We were disappointed by the decision."

-- Mark Weinberg

intercollegiate basketball games, two wrestling matches and a swimming meet, as well as forcing the closing of administrative offices, classrooms, gym facilities, a swimming pool and squash and racketball courts, Ericson said. About 3,500 persons use the Smith Center each day, she said.

The building's use is most crucial as a recreational center for students before exams, which begin the week after the summit, university officials said. "Students get real neurotic around finals," one GW official said.

The campus newspaper, The Hatchet, editorialized bitterly against the decision yesterday. It said campus officials are "inflexible" and "unwilling to take the chances that a university must take to secure a leading role in higher education . . . . International recognition and publicity, some of the world's best journalists on our campus, the gratitude of the federal government -- these represent just some of the benefits that the event would have provided GW."