A proposed new medical wing at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, part of the 2017 campus plan, faced criticism from the Old Georgetown Board regarding its potential conflict with planning principles in a design review meeting Feb. 4.
In accordance with the Old Georgetown Act of 1950, all proposed building projects must be reviewed by the Old Georgetown Board, an advisory committee of architects appointed by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a federal entity. The board conducts monthly reviews on all construction proposals in the Georgetown district.
The design proposes moving the hospital emergency unit to the new 477,000 square-foot wing and making Reservoir Road a grander entrance to the campus. The facility, designed by D.C.-based architecture firm Shalom Baranes Associates, would replace Kober-Cogan Building and one of St. Mary’s Hall’s wings with three levels of underground parking and increased lawn space.
The plans for the wing include more room for patients as well as a central entrance point with more user-friendly walkways, which seek to make the hospital easier to navigate.
The board criticized the large proposed size of the wing, stating that this will limit the potential for more green space on campus and increase traffic on the university’s north side.
Secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts Thomas Luebke said the board found significant problems in the new hospital wing’s potential effects on campus layout.
“The concerns about the building are fairly fundamental in terms of how the building is being planned, balanced against the long-term public spaces for the Georgetown University campus,” Luebke said.
Medstar Georgetown University Hospital President Michael Sachtleben declined to comment until the plans progress through the regulatory stage, which currently has no set timeline.
According to Luebke, the placement of the emergency suite at the southern end of the proposed building next to the Leavey Center will increase ambulance traffic near Darnall Hall, Henle Village apartments and the new Northeast Triangle residence hall.
“Why would you locate most of this disruptive, emergency activity so close to what is supposed to be a new undergraduate residential community?” Luebke said. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have ambulances and lights coming hundreds and hundreds of feet into the campus for emergencies. It’s strange.”
Luebke said the board also raised concerns regarding the new wing’s alignment with the university’s goal of fostering an undergraduate community on the north side of campus.
“So much about this has to do with what is the concept for that space and how can this new hospital pavilion work with that idea, help define it and make it possible,” Luebke said. “That’s the kernel of the issue. So far, it seems the programming of this enormous medical building is defining the project. The space, which is the most important thing for the university’s long-term objective, seems to be treated as a leftover rather than in the foreground.”
Vice President of the Citizens Association of Georgetown Jennifer Altemus, who also serves as the CAG representative on the Georgetown Community Partnership, of which MedStar is a component, stressed the improved facilities offered in the proposed pavilion.
“The new, modern facility will have enough beds for everybody, a special room for sexual assault victims and all the latest technology,” Altemus said. “Everybody’s health will be better. It will be more comfortable, more efficient and safer. A lot of great things can come out of it, and we’re excited for it. We just want to make sure, while we have the chance, to make it as good as it can be.”
At the review meeting, Shalom Baranes architect Mark Gilliand similarly emphasized the potential benefits of the new wing.
“We have a great opportunity to make this a new front door, an inviting front door, for the hospital and for the university,” Gilliand said, according to the Georgetown Current. “Obviously it’s a new pavilion that will be modern and efficient and right-sized for the hospital. It will also create a new green space for Georgetown University.”
However, Altemus also cited concerns about a lack of greenery and increased traffic.
“They are missing out an opportunity for more green space in Georgetown and on campus. It’s such a short commodity on the campus that you don’t want to miss the opportunity for that when you have it,” Altemus said. “Also, part of their transportation plan is problematic, both in terms of losing green space and in terms of trucks crossing campus where there are pedestrians and other drivers. It just seems like a recipe for disaster.”
Each proposal submitted to the Old Georgetown Board is first reviewed by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a D.C. office composed of elected representatives from the local community. The ANC then gives its recommendations to the Old Georgetown Board ten days before the official review meeting, but the board has the final say in proposal approvals.
Kendyl Clausen (SFS ’16), commissioner of ANC2E, which represents Georgetown, said that the commission made suggestions based on its disagreement with the lack of green space proposed in the plans. Clausen stressed that MedStar should make maximizing open lawn space a larger priority.
“The big contention is whether or not they’ll have two driveways in the middle of our new lawn,” Clausen said. “We want it to be a grassy lawn for pedestrians so that it can maximize the amount of space students and neighbors have. MedStar seems to want that too, but they’ve put two driveways in the middle of it, which is frustrating.”
Clausen also highlighted the potential safety issues in the area surrounding the wing.
“We’ve been working with MedStar and the Old Georgetown Board to make the hospital more of a pedestrian friendly part of campus,” Clausen said. “The fear is that cars and delivery vehicles will cause safety issues.”