The old Corcoran School in Georgetown is to be renovated into an office building, and developers plan to put up another office building and about 20 homes at the site, under plans announced this week.
The schoolhouse and its 33,000-square-foot lot, at 28th and M streets NW, were sold at auction in January by the District government as part of its plan to raise money by selling off surplus land. Located at the entrance to Georgetown, across from the Four Seasons Hotel, the property was the largest and one of the choicest pieces the city had to offer.
The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union had the winning bid of $1.8 million, wanting to use the school building for its international headquarters. The union now has reached an agreement with DRG Ventures, a subsidiary of the DeFranceaux Realty Group, by which the developers will buy the property from the union for $1.8 million and will lease the renovated Corcoran School to the union for its headquarters, according to DRG Ventures Vice President Joel Barry Brown.
The eight-room, two-story Corcoran, built in 1889, faces 28th Street and has Rock Creek Park at its back. It was used as a public elementary school until 1951, when it was closed down because of a declining school population. For the past two decades, the building has housed some divisions of the District Department of Transportation, and the property around it is used as a parking lot.
In addition to the 18,000 square feet of office space in the existing building, Brown said the developers also plan to build:
One four-story office building on M Street with another 18,000 square feet of space.
Either 14 or 15 two-story luxury residences, also along M Street.
Five town houses at the back side of the property.
A 60- or 70-space underground parking garage to be entered from 28th Street.
Officials of the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, which now operates out of free space at the Corcoran school, were caught by surprise by the announcement and said they were not consulted on the planning. The initial reaction was one of concern that the development might be too dense for the area and that it might create a traffic problem at the already-busy intersection.
"This sounds a little heavy," said Donald Shannon, president of the citizens association, though he said he would want to see specific plans before making a final judgment. The group at one point was told that retail shops probably would be built on the M Street side of the property rather than an office building, he said.
Ray Kukulski, chairman of the advisory commission, said he would be "somewhat concerned" about having an office building at the site because it would do nothing to retain the residential and historical character of the area.
"People come to Georgetown for a human setting, for its human characteristics," he said. Office buildings "are not at all an asset for the area," but he added that if there is to be one that four stories sounds reasonable.
Some neighborhood leaders also pointed to the current softness in the office leasing market and wondered if an office-building venture now could be successful.
But Brown of DRG Ventures said the developer "believes in the long-term viability of the Washington market," both for housing and for office buildings, and pointed to the Corcoran site's "outstanding location."
Brown said the new buildings would be Victorian in style and are to be designed by architect Arthur Cotton Moore. Work on the site is to begin in February or March next year, with the entire project to take about 18 months to complete, Brown said.
The developers still need to get approvals for the design from the Fine Arts Commission, and plans are to be submitted to the commission for consideration in September, Brown said. In addition, the developers must get some minor zoning approvals from the city for some of the renovation work, he said.