Stevens School saga mercifully ending soon with groundbreaking of trophy office project

It’s been a decade-long saga — with deals done and deals nearly lost, political wrangling and neighborhood outrage — but the redevelopment of the Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School property on D.C.’s West End is, we can finally say, imminent.

Akridge and its partners, Corporate Office Properties Trust (NYSE: OFC) and Argos Group, are out for bid for a general contractor to construct the office portion of the two-pronged Thaddeus Stevens Place project near the corner of 21st and L streets NW. The second piece, the renovation of the 41,800-square-foot Stevens School building at 1050 21st St. NW for an expansion of the School Without Walls and an infant and toddler development center, awaits the approval of D.C.’s Department of General Services.

Matt Klein, Akridge president, said Wednesday that site work is underway and construction of the 10-story, 190,000-square-foot office building — to include 8,000 square feet of retail, 20,000-square-foot floor plates, two-story lobby and landscaped rooftop terrace — is expected to start in the spring. The office building, with an address of 2100 L St. NW, will take up the school parking lot and the lot on which the Humane Society of the United States’ headquarters once sat.

The GC search values the office project at nearly $50 million. Bidding ends Feb. 2.

Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School was built in 1868 as one of D.C.’s first publicly funded schools for African-American children — the children of freed slaves — and named for the abolitionist and former Pennsylvania congressman who helped to draft the 14th Amendment. The school was closed in 2008.

Moving on proved to be a three-administration challenge.

It was Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s administration that kicked off the process in 2009 with the selection of Chicago-based Equity Residential to redevelop the site as an apartment complex — a proposal that outraged the West End community. Fenty cut ties with Equity just before leaving office in 2010, and left the Stevens effort to Mayor Vincent Gray, who selected Akridge and Argos a couple of years later.

Five years of delays followed for a host of reasons — finalizing the complicated deal, locking up an educational partner, and so on. D.C. Council approval for the ground leases came in December 2014, just before Gray left office, leaving the last details to Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Most recently, the project was on hold in part because the school parking lot was home to a temporary fire station while Fire and EMS Engine No. 1 was under reconstruction. The new fire station, which sits below a 52-unit affordable apartment building and a squash facility, Squash on Fire, opened in May at 2225 M St. NW.