Georgetown’s board announced in October that it has approved funding for a residence at 55 H St. NW to accommodate 476 undergraduate and graduate students. Groundbreaking is expected as early as next fall.
That project follows the $70 million purchase several months ago of a building at 500 First St. NW, adding to the already sizable campus of the Georgetown University Law Center. Opening next year, the 130,000-square-foot edifice will provide classrooms and offices for researchers in health, technology, law and other fields.
Nearby is the university’s School of Continuing Studies. It moved in 2013 to a site on Massachusetts Avenue NW near Mount Vernon Square.
This all adds up to a geographic shift for the 19,000-student Jesuit university founded in 1789 near the Potomac River. Georgetown officials say they want students and faculty members to look beyond the tranquil main campus in Northwest Washington known as “the Hilltop.”
“We view ourselves as a D.C. citizen,” university Provost Robert Groves said. Georgetown’s iconic Healy Hall, he said, faces east toward the heart of the city. The H street dormitory, Groves said, will spur more students to “go downtown and live and work and study for a semester.”
Kitra Katz, 22, a senior from Minneapolis majoring in English, is a pioneer in that movement. She and a small group of other Georgetown students are living this fall at New York University’s D.C. center on L Street NW and taking classes in the Georgetown continuing studies building. They also have internships. Katz is working for a writing consultant. Others, she said, have positions with a museum, a think tank and a nonprofit organization.
For Katz, the experience has been a revelation. She has explored the neighborhood north of Massachusetts Avenue known as NoMa, spent time in Anacostia, visited museums and memorials and even taken a course with inmates at the D.C. jail.
The Hilltop, she said, is serene but in some ways remote.
“We feel very isolated from the rest of the city,” she said. “There’s definitely an itch to get out, break the bubble. Students want that. In a way, it honestly does feel like I’m studying abroad.”
Katz is taking part in the launch of Georgetown’s Capitol Applied Learning Lab. Known as CALL, the program will move next year to the ground floor of 500 First. Participants will live at 55 H when the residence hall opens, as early as fall 2022. That is about 3½ miles east of the main campus.
Famed for its internship opportunities, Washington is a perennial magnet for college students. It is home to research universities such as American, Catholic, Gallaudet, George Washington and Howard.
Many out-of-town schools are also active in the area from downtown to Capitol Hill. Johns Hopkins University announced in January a deal to buy the landmark building at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW now occupied by the Newseum. The Baltimore-based research university plans to consolidate its D.C. centers there after the Newseum leaves. Arizona State University has a building at 18th and I streets NW. And the University of California has a site on Rhode Island Avenue NW near Scott Circle.
Being in Washington is vital for universities, said Katherine A. Rowe, the president of the College of William & Mary, which runs a D.C. center near Dupont Circle. “This is the crossroads for global leaders and global policymakers — period,” she said.
Georgetown’s new residence hall project started to come together in 2018, officials say, as Gonzaga College High School was looking to obtain revenue from a parcel it owns next to its athletic field. Gonzaga, which is also a Jesuit school, struck a deal with Georgetown in which the university is leasing the H Street parcel for 85 years.
University and Gonzaga officials declined to discuss financial terms.
Georgetown’s proposal to build the residence hall on what is now a surface parking lot is pending before the D.C. Zoning Commission. The hall would have 158 units, with room for 476 beds. The site shares a block with restaurants, a Walmart and the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The hall will have rooftop solar panels to provide energy for heating water, and the interior will have a mix of studios and suites “as nice as anything on the Hilltop,” said Geoffrey S. Chatas, the university’s senior vice president and chief operations officer. Robert A.M. Stern Architects, based in New York, is designing the hall.
It will be a short walk from Georgetown Law Center in the East End neighborhood of the District. That campus, launched in 1971, has grown significantly in the years since to fill an expanse southwest of Massachusetts Avenue that is bounded on the east by New Jersey and First streets and on the west by Second Street.
The campus serves the largest law school in the country among those approved by the American Bar Association. Georgetown Law Center had about 2,750 students in 2018, according to the ABA. New York University’s law school was the second-largest, with about 2,200 students, and Harvard’s was third-largest, with about 2,000.
Through the purchase of 500 First — previously occupied by the federal Bureau of Prisons — Georgetown has stretched the East End campus southward to E Street NW.
The building will be home to scholars with expertise in law, technology, public policy and global health. Much of the interdisciplinary work there will focus on the role of technology in society. Scholars will be able to examine topics such as the regulation of driverless cars or the intersection of technology and national security. William M. Treanor, Georgetown’s law dean, said the venture will aim to generate ideas by teaming experts from diverse fields who otherwise might not know one another.
“If they’re just right down the hall, or in the next office, that’s a conversation that’s going to occur,” Treanor said.