Monday, October 1, 2012

georgetown university considers satellite campus in white oak

Georgetown University
Could this be coming to East County? Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Georgetown University needs space to grow. Montgomery County needs a university to anchor a research and development center they want to create in White Oak. Luckily, there's a college campus for sale in the neighborhood that can satisfy them both.

According to the Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Georgetown is interested in buying the National Labor College, a 47-acre campus at New Hampshire Avenue and the Beltway. The AFL-CIO bought the former Catholic school to educate union workers nearly 40 years ago, but chose to sell it due to declining enrollment.

National Labor College
Bird's-eye view of the National Labor College campus from Bing Maps.

Over 300 potential buyers expressed interest in buying the campus due to its redevelopment potential. One of them was Tysons Corner Center owner Macerich, which had considered building a "high-end retail outlet center for name brands like Prada" on the site.

Georgetown would use the property to consolidate its sports programs in one location and to use the Lane Kirkland Center, a conference facility completed in 2006, for meeting space. Meanwhile, growing Montgomery College may want it for an entire new campus, though they haven't submitted a formal bid yet. While both schools would make a great use for the property, having Georgetown at the National Labor College is particularly interesting.

Last week, county planners submitted preliminary recommendations (PDF!) for the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, which envisions creating a new center for research and technology around the Food and Drug Administration's new campus on New Hampshire Avenue, a half-mile from the National Labor College. Under the plan, which is similar to the proposed Great Seneca Science Corridor in Gaithersburg, the area could have as many as 40,000 new jobs and 8,000 new homes.

Quad, LifeSci Village
Rendering of LifeSci Village, a proposed research and development park with housing, offices and shops. Image from Percontee.

The county's already picked a developer for what would be the plan's largest component, a massive mixed-use development called LifeSci Village. However, a county-funded study by consulting firm Partners for Economic Solutions last year found that the Science Gateway won't work without an affiliated research institution.

Georgetown could potentially fill that void. The university conducts a lot of research, and while much of it is not in science or technology-related fields, they are looking to expand. Georgetown is looking for up to 100 acres for a satellite campus somewhere in the District of Columbia to accommodate their future growth needs.

While a few potential sites exist, many of them would require building a school from scratch. The National Labor College, with dorms, classrooms, a library and an auditorium, would allow Georgetown to hit the ground running. That is, if they sought to use the campus for more than athletic fields and conference rooms.

With a new campus, Georgetown could expand into new fields of study and scientific research. Meanwhile, the White Oak Science Gateway would have a prestigious anchor that could draw scientists and companies from around the world. In turn, they would attract investment in the kind of amenities that East County residents are clamoring for, like more jobs and better shopping.

Potential BRT Routes in White Oak
Potential Rapid Transit Vehicle routes in the White Oak Science Gateway. The National Labor College stop is the blue dot at the bottom. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Of course, one thing that sites in the District have is proximity to Georgetown's main campus, while the National Labor College is over 10 miles away. If built, Montgomery County's proposed Rapid Transit Vehicle system would have three routes serving the White Oak Science Gateway and a stop serving the National Labor College, improving its accessibility to the main campus and the rest of the region.

As I've written before, the National Labor College campus is a big opportunity for East County to reinvent itself. However, it also gives Georgetown University a chance to grow and become an even stronger research institution. Meeting the school's athletic needs is important, but there's potential for much more on this site.


Patrick said...

Would Georgetown consider it an advantage or a disadvantage to build on the doorstep of the University of Maryland?

I can see it as either.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

As long as the development at this site is about JOBS (and NOT more residential development, which the East County does NOT need), I have no problem with it.

Georgetown would be O.K. by me.