A Sept. 25 Metro article described the latest in the long-running story of the Wilson Building:
The D.C. Council has asked President Clinton to help the city buy out a General Services Administration (GSA) lease that would allow Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offices to occupy a section of the newly renovated building early next year. The council was supposed to share the building with the EPA, but now it wants the building all to itself.
In all of the many discussions about the fate of the Wilson Building, I have heard little about the effects of such a change in plans on the EPA employees who are scheduled to move into the building. I'm one of those employees.
Prospects apparently are now dim for our offices to move into the Wilson Building in February as originally slated. Instead, we've been told that we probably will remain at the Waterside Mall in Southwest Washington. Federal taxpayers will be footing the bill so that the D.C. government can buy out the GSA lease. In other words, as a payer of federal taxes, I will be contributing money to kick myself out of my new office space, just so that the D.C. government can enjoy its "symbol of self-government."
In the late '80s I stopped working for the EPA largely because of the deplorable working conditions I had to put up with at the Waterside Mall. At that time, EPA was in the middle of a "sick building syndrome" scandal. Some EPA employees were unable to enter the mall because of health problems apparently associated with a lack of proper ventilation. Asbestos was discovered in the ceiling of my office area.
I went back to work for the EPA at the Waterside Mall in 1996. Although the building was still dirty, rundown, cockroach-infested and ventilation-disabled, plans were at least in place for a move. I figured that I could put up with occasionally being pulled over by the police as I left the parking lot at night -- they are running spot checks to try to catch the drug dealers who work the adjacent neighborhood -- if the situation were temporary. I even bought a home near a Metro so that I eventually could take the subway to work at the Wilson Building.
Now, though, it looks as though the people with all the decision-making power believe that it is a priority for federal dollars to help the District buy back this property. I've heard that the price tag for the Wilson building buy-back is at least $75 million. That's $75 million, spent not on better schools, better infrastructure or less crime, but on a "symbol" of a better District.
Meanwhile, I and my co-workers are stuck at the Waterside Mall while the GSA begins a search for another location for our office, which may or may not be near the rest of EPA. All of the federal taxpayer money already spent on negotiating the Wilson Building lease, planning the renovations and the move will be wasted.
If symbols are so important to the members of the D.C. Council, I have a suggestion: To show their commitment to revitalizing Southwest, perhaps they should consider a symbolic move for their offices -- to the Waterside Mall.
-- Jean Schumann