The college, located at New Hampshire Avenue and the Beltway, was previously a Catholic school before the AFL-CIO bought the property in 1974, seeking a permanent place to educate union workers. With just 1,300 students, all of whom can now study online, the college no longer needs a large campus and plans to relocate to an office building somewhere in the area.
The National Labor College leaves behind a 47 acre campus with four residence halls, two classroom buildings, a library, an auditorium and the recently-built Lane Kirkland Conference Center, all of which surround a small quad. There's also what appears to be a basketball court and baseball diamond. (In case you're as unfamiliar with the site as I was, the campus does not include Holly Hall, a retirement community whose red-brick buildings make it look like part of the college.)
What can be done with a former college? Naturally, the campus would lend itself to another school, but we shouldn't be limited by that. The campus might be a nice place for a security-minded government tenant to locate, but judging from the stalled progress at St. Elizabeth's in the District, it's unlikely that any federal agencies will be poking around here.
Besides, we probably don't want that anyway. When the Food and Drug Administration relocated their headquarters to the former Naval Ordnance Laboratory further up New Hampshire Avenue, there was an opportunity to use its 710-acre property for a mix of uses, including retail, housing or parkland. But neighbors in Hillandale "[were] going to have none of that," as one resident told the Washington Post. Instead, we got an isolated office campus whose 7,000 workers barely venture out for lunch, much to the chagrin of local restaurants.
The National Labor College land is far too valuable to make that mistake again. It's next to the Beltway and just one exit away from I-95. It's also part of the White Oak Science Gateway, which is what county planners call the research and development center they'd like to create in the area. There are a lot of possibilities here, and we shouldn't be so quick to shut them off.
It's not every day that 47 acres suddenly appears in the middle of an established community. This is a great opportunity and we'd do well to seize it.