Secure facility or college campus? Photo by bjackrianaol on Flickr.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is consolidating its 60-some-odd area offices to a centralized campus. Finally. This move is smart, as it will improve the organization’s efficiency and bring it up to par with other executive branch defense organizations with their own headquarters like the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Defense, the DIA, and the FBI.

Unfortunately, the new headquarters will destroy a huge chunk of historical landscape. The National Planning Commission has given final approval to consolidate DHS’s officees on the west campus of the Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Southwest DC.

Seriously? DHS is going to take over a National Historic Site? The feds will remake the site with new office buildings, acres of surface parking, and a cordon of security gates before the first terror suspect is ever questioned there. I’m all for DHS, and I think consolidating their offices is a very smart thing to do. But there are much better places to do it.

Here are some possibilities:

  • The power plant at River Terrace. It’s isolated enough to pass muster for security, near a highway, and a potential infill Metro station.
  • DC General Hospital. Also centrally located and near a Metro station, this could repurpose existing buildings much like the St. E’s site.
  • Bolling AFB. Put it on a military base like NSA or DIA. Bolling would need to consolidate its land use, but the base ought to do that anyway.
  • The warehouses near Van Dorn Street Metro. Highway, Metro station, relative isolation for security purposes.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Park. It’s near the Pentagon, near a Metro station, and it would be a great excuse to get rid of that highway spaghetti there. Plus, it’s technically in the District.

Those are just a few places DHS could locate. Meanwhile, DC should repurpose St. E’s west campus into a full public university. Expand (not relocate, as suggested in 1999 by the Mayor Williams) UDC to St. E’s. Make the Van Ness campus the graduate school and give the students dorms and a historic campus. UDC at St. E’s could hold public events and allow the entire city to take advantage of the views and historic atmosphere of the campus.

More importantly, this is Washington, DC’s last shot at providing a traditional college campus for what ought to be its flagship public institution of higher learning. The site looks like a college campus. Not using it as one sends a very bad message to the city’s residents: We’re not interested in investing in your education, and we don’t think you deserve the type of college campus enjoyed by every other state and territory in the US.

The amount of federal money it would take to make this happen is astronomically higher than what governments normally spend on public universities, I fear. But we must make a commitment to education in a city reknowned for bottom-feeding in education. DC will never reach its potential as a city if it is not willing to truly invest in the education of its citizens. DHS deserves a centralized campus, but UDC deserves dorms for its students, and they’ve been waiting a lot longer.

Born in DC and a lifelong resident of the area, Dave Murphy currently resides in the Rosedale neighborhood of Ward 7 where he coaches a championship youth football team in the DC DPR League. He is an Army veteran and a medically retired DoD geographic analyst.