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On Georgetown's crowded campus, 'something's got to give'

Wednesday - 3/27/2013, 2:49pm  ET

Georgetown University, in the midst of a long-term master planning effort, is pondering how to accommodate growth on its 104-acre campus, what it's calling "the next 100 acres."

Something has to go. Uprooting the medical school, or even MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, is certainly one option — albeit an option far off into the future — and it may be playing a role in the school’s hiring plans.

Chris Augostini, Georgetown’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, stressed that no decisions have been made, and he reiterated that there’s little chance that both the hospital and the medical school will be “airlifted” away to some other location, perhaps Poplar Point or Hill East or St. Elizabeths east. But he acknowledged that changes could be coming to the medical portion of the campus, which consumes roughly 25 of the 104 acres.

“I can’t imagine imminently,” he said. “You can’t fix the kinds of problems you’re articulating in 48 hours. When you try, you fail.”

While Augostini said he expects a clinical presence to remain on the campus into the foreseeable future, “we would be crazy not to plan” for an incremental shift over time.

MedStar, which holds a 99-year ground lease on the hospital, was adamant that a move is not coming, at least in the short term. In the long term, the question is fuzzy.

“I think that, whatever we call that parcel, the Georgetown campus, has got on it three thriving organizations — the university, the medical school and the hospital,” said Jean Hitchcock, MedStar spokeswoman. “All of them hope to grow, and the question is, they’re in a confined area and something’s got to give.”

“Building a new hospital for Georgetown is not an immediate decision we have to make, but we know it’s one that’s going to be made,” Hitchcock continued. “But it’s got to be done in conjunction with the university.”

In the next couple years, Georgetown expects to spend a couple hundred million dollars upgrading the physical plant on the main campus. The school has agreed, as part of its recently updated campus master plan, to move 450 undergraduate students out of the Georgetown neighborhood and onto campus by 2015. Seven sites have been identified on campus for new housing.

But the real spending comes later, as the university sets out to develop more residences, improve traffic patterns, build a green footprint, integrate the campus into the larger Georgetown community and sustain its 3 percent to 6 percent annual growth.

“This is an engine that’s constantly growing and 104 acres is never going to accommodate that kind of growth,” Augostini said.

It’s why Georgetown hired Forest City Washington last summer to lead a master planning effort. Forest City has since retained Watertown, Mass.-based Sasaki Associates Inc., and the two are in the midst of a year plus-long study of Georgetown’s current conditions and future needs.

That effort will determine, Augostini said, “how much of those needs can be legitimately accommodated on this footprint, and what legitimately should move off this footprint.”

“That’s where we are today,” he said.

Georgetown is being actively wooed to be a part of Property Group Partners’ Interstate 395 air rights project, which will be constructed adjacent to the Georgetown University Law Center. And the university has identified certain sites — such as Poplar Point, Hill East, St. Elizabeths east, McMillan and Walter Reed — where it may be able to grow in the future.

(Coincidentally, Forest City is one of nine developers vying to lead the redevelopment of Walter Reed. The firm disclosed its interest to Georgetown, Augostini said, but the conversation hasn’t evolved much beyond that.)

Those properties are all owned by the District. Georgetown, officials say coincidentally, is now interviewing for a new director of local government affairs, who will be responsible for building and maintaining relationships with government officials while ensuring the school’s master planning priorities move forward.

“We are not hiring a person to identify the next plot of land,” said Lauralyn Lee, Georgetown’s associate vice president for community engagement, who will make the hire. “We’re hiring a government relations person.”

Reporter Ben Fischer contributed to this story.

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.