At 2:00 PM on Saturday, November 19, 2011, a small group of activists associated with Occupy DC took over the vacant Franklin School building at 13th and K Streets NW, Washington, DC. Their occupation did not last long as the police arrested eleven activists around 7:00PM that same evening. The activists call themselves Free Franklin. They’re goals, motivations and calls to action are posted at FreeFranlkinDC.blogspot.com. A public forum about the future of Franklin Shelter and the importance of public property for essential human services is scheduled as follows:
Public Forum on Franklin Shelter Monday, November 21 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM Asbury United Methodist Church 11th & K Streets NW
All DC community members are encouraged to attend. For more on the November 19 takeover of Franklin School I suggest Luke Kuhn’s post at DC’s Independent Media Center.
The recent history of Franklin School illustrates the conflict between the needs of long-term DC residents and the actions of District government who, more often than not, represent the interests of developers and the wealthy over those of low and moderate-income residents. Since the Fenty Administration, the government of the District of Columbia has been attempting to declare Franklin School surplus and sell it to a private entity, this despite the school’s long history of public service. One of DC’s first public high schools, the building was used as an educational facility for most of its life. Up until 1995 the Franklin School housed an adult-education center, at which time it was closed for renovations that the city promised but (surprise, surprise) never materialized. The school remained shuttered until 2002 when homeless advocates took over the building and turned it into a shelter. By 2007, the Franklin Shelter was housing 300, working, homeless men. In 2008, then Mayor Adrian Fenty shuttered Franklin Shelter ignoring emergency legislation passed by the council to keep it open, Franklin Shelter Closing Requirements Emergency Act of 2008. After more than two years in the courts, a lawsuit brought by the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter and former residents finally failed in January of 2011. Despite this, homeless advocates continue to challenge the closing of DC’s homeless shelters in the courts. More information about their efforts can be found at FranklinShelter.org.
Except for its brief re-opening on November 19, the Franklin School has remained empty since September 2008. Homeless advocates would like to reopen it as a shelter. Others interested in the property as a historical landmark and District treasure such as the Coalition for Franklin School would like to see it reopened as a school or some other educational or cultural institution. The city seems most inclined to sell the property to private developers interested in turning the Franklin School into a boutique hotel. In accordance with District of Columbia Code 10-801, DC government is not allowed to surplus and sell any property without first conducting a pubilc hearing and soliciting input from the community. Unfortunately, as the above video of the surplus hearing for Franklin School conducted on November 18, 2010 demonstrates, these hearings are far too often used as a forum for city officials to present to the community their reasons for a decision that they’ve already made, rather than a hearing in which public comment is genuinely considered. Is the surplus of Franklin School a foregone conclusion? Stay tuned.