HPA No. 2015-439 (In re. Bancroft Elementary School)
- HPA Number: 2015-439
- Building Name: Bancroft Elementary School
- Address: 1755 Newton St. NW, Square 2610, Lot 654
- Date of Order: Sept. 8, 2015
- Disposition: Granted
- Subject Matter(s): Demolition, Special Merit – Community Services
As part of a school modernization and expansion plan for the Bancroft School in the Mount Pleasant Historic District, the District of Columbia Department of General Services (DGS) sought to demolish the rear addition, built in 1938, which was used a multipurpose room/gymnasium.
The proposal would allow for the construction of a large modern wing behind two street-facing historic wings.
DGS considered four alternatives to demolishing the 1938 addition, but each alternative would still damage its historic character and require more complicated engineering solutions. The Historic Preservation Review Board found the overall concept appropriate for the historic school in the historic district, but determined that the Mayor’s Agent must make a decision on the demolition, because demolition nevertheless was inconsistent with the purposes of the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act.
The Mayor’s Agent may allow the demolition of an historic landmark or a contributing building in an historic district if the proposed project is “necessary in the public interest,” D.C. Code §6-1105(e)—which means it is either consistent with the purpose of the preservation law or a project of special merit. In a special merit case, the Mayor’s Agent must first decide whether the proposed project meets one the three criteria of special merit established in the Act: (i) exemplary architecture, (ii) specific features of land planning, or (iii) social or other benefits having a high priority for community services. D.C. Code §6-1102(10). If the project satisfies one of these three criteria, then the Mayor’s Agent must determine if the special merit project outweighs the harm to historic properties. If the balancing test suggests to the Mayor’s Agent that the project’s benefits exceed the historic value of the historic property, then the Mayor’s Agent must also find that the work is “necessary” to allow the special merit project.
In this straightforward case, the renovated and modernized school (with improved access for persons with disabilities) would provide “social or other benefits having a high priority for community services.” Moreover, the modern wings would not be visible from Newton Street. The Mayor’s Agent praised the architecture of the proposal for retaining and restoring the historic building for continued use as a school.
The Mayor’s Agent then found that the 1938 addition’s demolition was necessary to construct the special merit project. The advantages of a newly modernized school exceeded the loss of the historic addition, so the Mayor’s Agent approved the permit to demolish the addition.
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Frederick Douglass Community Improvement Council/Concerned Citizens of Anacostia v. District of Columbia Office of Planning., Historic Preservation Office District of Columbia. Court of Appeals (2015)