State Department Campus to Expand in Foggy Bottom

Site drawing of the "Potomac Hill Diplomatic Center" site as provided in GSA's master plan RFI.
Site drawing of the “Potomac Hill Diplomatic Center” site as provided in GSA’s master plan RFI.

As reported yesterday (Tuesday, February 19) by Dan Sernovitz in the Washington Business Journal, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) is “weighing a significant expansion of its office space in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, where it would spread into several buildings the military shed as part of the 2005 base realignment and closure plan.”

GSA issued a presolicitation on February 17 for a lead designer and associated planning, architecture and engineering firm interested in master planning what it calls the “Potomac Hill Diplomatic Center (PHDC), a historic federal campus.” The 11.8-acre property—which sits directly to the west of DOS headquarters (across 23rd Street, N.W.), north of the U.S. Institute of Peace (a publicly funded nonprofit group that has been promised two buildings on the property), and to the east and south of the E Street Expressway—is made up of two adjoining sites, the Navy Hill and Potomac Annex parcels. It is home to the first Naval Observatory (a diminutive, 168-year-old yellow-brick building with a white dome now known as the Old Naval Observatory and a designated National Historic Landmark) and the original headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. The property also housed a variety of U.S. Navy and Navy Medicine activities for nearly a century.

The presolicitation is for the first stage in a two-stage Design Excellence Program solicitation process, which will operate through GSA’s Public Buildings Service; responses are due by May 18. According to the document, “GSA is currently working with DOS to transform the Potomac Annex and Navy Hill properties into a single, state-of-the-art federal campus … envisioned to serve the long-term needs of DOS and minimize the agency’s real estate expenses by transitioning employees now housed in private office buildings to this federally owned site.” GSA estimates that the master plan contract will range in value from $1.5 to $2 million.

The eight existing office buildings on the property were occupied for more than 70 years by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, which completed its move to the Skyline neighborhood of Falls Church, Va., in June 2012, after which the Navy gave the site and buildings to DOS. Of those eight buildings, three currently are occupied by DOS and five are vacant and undergoing renovation. While the site’s location is ideal for a DOS expansion, transforming its mid-19th and early-20th century structures into an efficient, secure and sustainable (LEED Gold–certified) campus while maintaining the property’s existing cultural, natural and physical attributes will be both costly and time consuming.  Balancing historic preservation and adaptive use with new construction also will present significant challenges.

While it would make sense for DOS to use the campus to consolidate some of its private leases, it is too soon to say how much and which leased space the department would leave, as well as how many employees would be relocated.