Sidwell delays, revises campus consolidation plans

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Sidwell Friends School purchased the Washington Home & Community Hospices building at 3720 Upton St. NW in 2015. (Brian Kapur/The Current/December 2015)

Sidwell Friends School has elected to delay and revise its plans to consolidate all of its grades on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

The private school currently has two campuses: a middle and upper school at 3825 Wisconsin Avenue NW, serving fifth through 12th grades; and a lower school at 5100 Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda, Md., which serves pre-K through fourth grade. Sidwell purchased the Washington Home & Community Hospice property adjacent to its D.C. campus in 2015, with the intention of relocating its lower school there. The project won Board of Zoning Adjustment support in spring 2016, and Sidwell had said it would begin renovation work as early as this summer.

Now, though, the school plans instead to relocate its upper school into the Washington Home building and use the existing upper school for the lower school — a project that won’t begin until at least 2019.

“With Upper School enrollment and applications at an all-time high, the need for expanded space is most acute in that division,” head of school Bryan Garman said in a written statement provided to The Current. “Moreover, we have learned that the building will require fewer modifications to accommodate Upper School students, allowing us to reduce renovation costs.”

Garman said more details will emerge during a master planning process for Sidwell’s properties in the area, which include the original campus, the Washington Home and 3939 Wisconsin Ave., a Fannie Mae office building the school acquired last fall.

The changes will require fresh zoning approval, including a revised traffic management plan — the biggest concern among many neighbors during the previous zoning process.

David Dickinson of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F (Forest Hills, North Cleveland Park, Van Ness) said at ANC 3F’s July 18 meeting that the revisions could keep more traffic on Wisconsin Avenue rather than in the surrounding neighborhood. The Washington Home building fronts quiet 37th and Upton streets, across from residential homes.

“If the high school were to end up where the Washington Home is, it would likely decrease traffic compared to if the lower school were located there,” Dickinson said.

A condition of Sidwell Friends School’s earlier zoning approval had included improving Upton Street NW near Wisconsin Avenue. (Brian Kapur/The Current/March 2016)

The 2016 zoning approval also included $100,000 in commitments toward addressing local traffic safety issues — a stipulation that could be renegotiated under a revised application. Associate head of school Ellis Turner told The Current that such issues would be worked out with the community.

“Revisions will need to be submitted to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission; BZA hearings will follow,” Turner wrote in an email. “We worked collaboratively with the neighborhood to craft a satisfactory traffic management plan and will continue to do so.”

A new timeline for the school’s consolidation process hasn’t yet been finalized. The only date shared so far, in Garman’s statement, is that renovations to the Washington Home building will begin as early as 2019 “if we successfully reach our fundraising goals.” At that point, the upper school could relocate only after the renovations are complete — and then the former upper school campus would need its own renovations before the lower school could move in.

Turner said Sidwell is still reviewing interim uses for the Washington Home building. The nonprofit shuttered its inpatient nursing home in favor of caring for the elderly in their own homes, citing cost concerns, but is still leasing back part of its old facility from Sidwell to operate a hospice.

Meanwhile, an ongoing campus master planning process is also still reviewing the best use for 3939 Wisconsin, which Fannie Mae has leased through 2018, Turner said. The school has previously said that it’s considering using the office building as academic or administrative space, or leasing it as a revenue-generator.