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Historic Franklin School redevelopment draws scrutiny from D.C. officials, preservationists

Workers reportedly damaged the interior of the building, which is set to become a museum

The Franklin School at 925 13th St. NW
Andrei Medvedev/Shutterstock

Once a homeless shelter and now a historic landmark, the former Franklin School building at 925 13th St. NW—right off Franklin Square—is currently being shaped into the District’s inaugural language museum. The future museum is expected to open in late 2019 and will feature interactive exhibits, classroom space, an auditorium, a great hall, and a restaurant.

But as first reported by the Washington Business Journal on Wednesday, workers apparently damaged parts of the building’s historic interior since work got underway this year, casting a shadow over the $50 million project. The work allegedly violated the construction permit that the city granted for the project as well as District and federal historic preservation laws.

In recent weeks, according to an Aug. 22 email the Journal obtained, preservation officials learned that the interior work at the Franklin School “exceeded that allowed by the District’s permit, and has resulted in the significant removal of interior historic fabric, including most of the extant wainscoting,” or wood paneling. The building has been vacant since 2008 and is owned by the District government. (Occupy activists briefly took over the school in 2011.)

Philanthropist Ann Friedman, who established the museum concept, called Planet Word, is leading the redevelopment. Friedman told the Washington Post on Thursday that the Franklin School is a “beautiful, wonderful building,” but would not comment on whether the work so far had run afoul of any historic preservation regulations.

The office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development awarded the rights to the 51,000-square-foot project in early 2017. Officials visited the site on Thursday, per the Post, but did not decide whether to stop the work. D.C. Preservation League leader Rebecca Miller joined the visit and told the paper that most of the historical finishings were removed.

A spokeswoman for Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner told Curbed DC that she did not have any updates about the situation as of mid-Friday afternoon. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the school was built in 1869. Adolph Cluss, the same architect behind Eastern Market, designed it. Alexander Graham Bell also tested his photopone invention on the school’s roof, in 1880.