The decade-long project to consolidate the Department of Homeland Security at the St. Elizabeths campus in southeast Washington, D.C., took another small step forward this week.
The National Capital Planning Commission on Thursday agreed to comments on a new master plan for the DHS headquarters consolidation.
The General Services Administration is requesting comments on the new DHS master plan now and expects to return to the commission for final approval at the end of the year.
The commission had already approved a master plan for St. Elizabeths construction back in 2009, but budget constraints and other project considerations forced the General Services Administration and DHS to go back to the drawing board.
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“The amendment is focused on new construction, all on the West Campus, as opposed to the combination of historic rehabilitation and new construction as envisioned in the 2009 master plan,” Lee Webb, a historic preservation specialist with the national commission, said Thursday.
Under the new plan, DHS headquarters will have a total of 5.7 million square feet of office space at St. Elizabeths. It will retain and rehabilitate 45 out of 62 historic buildings for future project phases, as opposed to 51 historic buildings as first envisioned under the first master plan.
Five historic pavilion buildings will be demolished along the campus’ plateau, as GSA discovered many of them had suffered more severe structural damage than it previously realized. The historic buildings along the campus’ “administration row” will stay in place, according to the plan.
DHS will also construct two new buildings on the St. Elizabeths campus, including one 600,000 square-foot facility. A second 175,000 square-foot building will house DHS’ intelligence and analysis function. Most of the new building, which will be situated near the Coast Guard facility, will be underground, according to GSA.
The new master plan also includes strategies for using shuttle services and ride share options to bring employees back and forth between the St. Elizabeths campus and nearby metro stations.
Planning commissioners have been concerned all along that new building construction on the St. Elizabeths campus would impede views of Washington, and some commissioners said those concerns remained even with the new master plan.
“The National Park Service continues to remain concerned about the future of the St. Elizabeths campus, as this master plan amendment may set precedent for future amendments and greater loss of more contributing resources,” Peter May, associate area director for the national capital area at the National Park Service, said. “We continue to be concerned about the amendment. I think they’ve done the best they can with a very difficult situation.”
The DHS campus is the most ambitious federal building project since the Pentagon. DHS held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last year for the pre-Civil War Center Building, which includes offices for acting Secretary Chad Wolfe.
Despite these recent developments, campus construction has dragged on for more than a decade. Congress has given DHS and GSA less than half of what they have requested over the lifecycle of the project, which has delayed some phases of construction and prompted revisions of the campus master plan.
The delays have also put DHS subcomponents, many of which are still scattered across the Washington metropolitan area, in a difficult spot. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, was supposed to move into a new building on the St. Elizabeths campus and received funding for the project. But FEMA eventually walked away from the project.
The original 2009 plan would have given DHS some 4.5 million square feet of office space between existing buildings and new construction, as well as 1.5 million square feet of parking space.
House appropriators have proposed $200 million for DHS headquarters consolidation in its 2021 budget proposal.