Two years after the originally anticipated completion date of the university’s new retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Virginia, plans to begin construction remain at a standstill.
The proposed Calcagnini Contemplative Center – a 56-acre retreat center that would house ESCAPE and other Office of Campus Ministry programs – was slated to be finished by 2008, but its status remains uncertain as Georgetown and the Clarke County Board of Supervisors work to settle a permit dispute on the property.
Despite the delay, university administrators are hopeful that the project will move forward for the sake of campus ministry programs.
“Our retreat programs are an extremely important part of our commitment to developing the spiritual lives of our students, faculty and staff across faith traditions,” Georgetown Director of Media Relations Andy Pino said in an e-mail. “The Contemplative Center is essential to the sustainability of those programs, and we are committed to building it.”
Without a retreat center of its own, the ESCAPE program has used the Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry Center in Sharpsburg, Md., for nearly 10 years and has developed a good relationship with the staff there, said Bridget Sherry, director of the ESCAPE First Year Experience, in an e-mail.
While ESCAPE is one of many campus ministry programs that would benefit from a university-owned retreat center, Sherry said there is no need to expedite the process.
“We would certainly welcome having [the] use of a retreat center owned and operated by the university, as that could allow us greater flexibility with some scheduling and storage of supplies,” Sherry said in an e-mail. “But, we are also content with using Shepherd’s Spring for the foreseeable future.”
Although ESCAPE remains satisfied with Shepherd’s Spring, Georgetown continues to fight for construction of the retreat center on the original property.
“It is our hope that we will be able to build the Contemplative Center on that site in Clarke County, [Va.], and we are preserving all of our options,” Pino said in an e-mail.
Georgetown architect Alan Bergman would not comment on a potential site change for the retreat center.
Plans for the Calcagnini Contemplative Center began in 2005 when the university purchased a plot of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains for construction of a retreat center. The project’s $5.3 million price tag would be funded through a $10 million donation from alumnus Arthur Calcagnini Jr. (CAS ’54).
In May 2009, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors denied Georgetown’s Special Use Permit 3-2, a special zoning permit that would allow for construction on “Forestral Open Space,” claiming in a 3-to-2 vote that the retreat center would undermine the zoning codes by promoting residential development in the area.
Georgetown reacted by filing a civil complaint with the Clarke County Circuit Court in June. According to the complaint, the university had already made zoning concessions – such as agreeing to preserve a historic 19th century farm house on the property.
The complaint called the board’s actions “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” and maintained that “Georgetown’s application for approval of a site plan met all applicable ordinance requirements.”
embers of the Clark County Board of Supervisors did not respond to requests for comment on the complaint.
It is unclear when the complaint will be heard in court. “