Washington Business Journal by Michael Neibauer
The historic Franklin School in downtown D.C. will reopen as a language arts museum as soon as the third quarter of 2019, according to documents submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission detailing the $20 million-plus project.
The public-private effort, led by Franklin School Development LLC and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, will reintroduce the 182-year-old building to the public following its years of vacancy and, before that, its years as a homeless shelter. Work is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2018.
Franklin School Development LLC is a partnership of ABooks LLC, formed by philanthropist Ann B. Friedman and developer Dantes Partners. The team was selected to rehabilitate the Franklin School, located at 925 13th St. NW, as Planet Word in early 2017 following a nearly two-year competition. Friedman’s ample wealth means the expensive renovation will be entirely privately funded.
It was the fourth competition to find a new use for the D.C.-owned space dating back to 2003. None of the previous competitions moved much beyond the selection stage.
According to architect Beyer Blinder Belle, Planet Word will break down in this way:
- On the ground floor, a 1,377-square-foot restaurant and 1,069-square-foot kitchen, more than 2,100 square feet of offices, a workshop and small conference room.
- On the first floor, 603 square feet of retail, joined by a nearly 2,000-square-foot auditorium and two galleries totaling about 2,200 square feet.
- On the second floor, five galleries totaling just shy of 5,000 square feet, joined by a 300-square-foot language lab and two classrooms.
- On the third floor, a 3,124-square-foot gallery in the Great Hall, a 1,578-square-foot gallery and a 2,205-square-foot changing exhibit. This floor also includes a 155-square-foot Bride’s Room, suggesting the school will be available to rent for weddings.
- On the fourth floor, 2,941 square feet of potential event space joined by a new 1,080-square-foot roof terrace. It is one of the few additions that will be made to the heavily protected building.
The Franklin School, designed by architect Adolf Cluss, was one of the earliest co-ed high schools and was the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s transmission of a “photophone” message. The building, opened in 1869, was added to the National Register in 1966. It is protected inside and out.
Planet Word’s board of directors includes Friedman, its founder and CEO; Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and Ann Friedman’s husband; Don Baer, CEO of Burson-Marstellar; Lisa Bernstein, literacy instructional expert at LearnZillion.com; Katherine Brittain Bradley, president of the CityBridge Foundation; Ann Doerr, chair of the Khan Academy; Mary Lou Gorno, managing director of Ingenuity International; Kaya Henderson, former D.C. Public Schools chancellor; Deborah Ratner Salzberg, executive vice president of Forest City Enterprises; and Jerry Tarde, chairman of Cande Nast’s Golf Digest Cos.
The NCPC is scheduled to consider the concept plan in December. Work to the exterior of the building will involve the rehabilitation of its details on the south, west and north elevations, the construction of an accessible entrance patio on the K Street side, and the restoration of a late-added vent as a window.