GW Hospital Nears Construction

With legal challenges and angry neighbors swirling around them, George Washington University officials are moving closer to starting construction on a $96 million state-of-the-art teaching hospital across the street from the one it would replace.

The university has scheduled an Oct. 6 groundbreaking ceremony for the 371-bed facility at 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, even though challenges are pending in two District agencies and the Health Department is just beginning a review of the project's environmental impact.

Zoning board approval of the triangular building was formally issued last month, but Foggy Bottom neighbors have filed appeals of that decision and the city's granting of a certificate of need for a new structure.

"The hospital is saying they can't renovate the old hospital, but there's very scant evidence that supports their decision," said James McLeod, a neighbor who says the project will cause excessive pedestrian and traffic congestion. "Technologically, it can be done."

Hospital chief Phillip S. Schaengold said that although the challenges will be pending for months or even years, the university will start excavating the site after Oct. 6 as soon as the building permit arrives.

"In D.C., the builders of a project proceed at their own risk when a zoning decision is granted," he said. "Otherwise anyone could appeal any zoning decision and hold up projects for years. What really happens in this community is projects proceed at the builder's peril."

Schaengold said the hospital will become the most modern health care facility in the region, with the latest medical technology, a larger emergency room and improved operating rooms.

"Our medical staff is excited about the opportunity to work in a brand-new complex," he said. "I think the city is going to be very proud of what we eventually put on this site."

But before a building permit can be issued, the university must furnish information to Theodore J. Gordon, the D.C. Health Department's deputy director for environmental health, about whether the project will cause increased air pollution and ground-water contamination.

Gordon must check for underground storage tanks that could be ruptured and conclude that the soil is solid enough to support the structure.

He also is asking what the university intends to do with the old hospital. "That may have a substantial impact," he said.

Schaengold has said only that control of the old hospital will be transferred to the university, which has not shared its plans.

-- Avram Goldstein

AOL Center Slated to Open Early

The $520 million America Online data center under construction outside Manassas already has four walls and a roof, and company officials say they expect the facility to open a month earlier than expected next spring.

The 220,000-square-foot data center, just off Interstate 66 in the Battlefield Business Park, will house $400 million worth of computer equipment that will help the world's largest Internet provider store and retrieve information. AOL, based in Dulles, will employ 125 new employees at the center and 50 more at other locations.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said the single-floor building is slated to open next March, one year after the project was announced with great fanfare by state and company officials.

"Considering that it was on a tight timetable to begin with, it's moving along very well," Weinstein said.

The building will include $50 million in equipment other than computers, officials said, while the building and the 25-acre property will cost about $70 million. AOL also has options on adjoining land, officials said.

Officials hailed the building as an economic development coup for Virginia and Prince William County, which is struggling to define itself as a high-tech center. In return, AOL will receive $19 million in upfront tax breaks and incentives and more than $3.5 million a year in ongoing tax savings.

State and county officials have defended aggressive incentives for such technology jobs, and Prince William officials estimate that the facility will add more than $3 million a year in local revenue.

-- Dan Eggen