New DHS Headquarters is Largest Construction Project in GSA History
A dazzling new headquarters building for the U.S. Coast Guard is nearing completion across the Potomac River from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This 1.3 million square foot complex, designed by Chicago-based Perkins + Will, marks the first phase of the creation of a headquarters campus for the entire Department of Homeland Security. It is located on the campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital, the first mental health facility created by the federal government and a National Historic Landmark.
No matter how many superlatives one chooses to use, it is difficult to accurately depict the sheer magnitude of this development. When complete, the DHS campus will comprise 4.5 million square feet of work space and 1.5 million square feet of structured parking. It is the largest construction project in the Washington metropolitan area since the Pentagon was built during World War II. Up to 14,000 DHS employees will be working on site. The Coast Guard portion alone involved the largest excavation project in DC history, creating 1.6 million cubic yards of dirt. The campus is also the largest construction project GSA has ever done.
Historic preservation is a key component, saving and revitalizing a site that was abandoned and decrepit. A total of 51 of the 62 buildings that contribute to its historic character will be modernized and reused. The original landscaping scheme, considered to be an integral part of the therapeutic environment for patients there, will be recreated. All new buildings will be low rise, so that views of the site high on a ridge above the Potomac will be preserved, as will the magnificent views from the site of the surrounding area.
Nor are environmental concerns being overlooked. GSA is aiming for Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Buildings Council. Four fifths of the roofs will be green. It will have its own co-generation facility. The Coast Guard portion of the project, located on a site that accommodates 45% of the runoff from rainstorms on the 173-acre campus, is being designed so that it will absorb all of the runoff from up to a 15-year storm event.
St. Elizabeths is located in Ward 8 of the District of Columbia, suffering from the highest unemployment rate in the city. DC residents hold more than one fifth of all the construction jobs on site, along with dozens of small businesses providing services to the general contractors. GSA created a Job Opportunities Center on campus that provides local residents and businesspeople with information and guidance on obtaining work on the project. When completed, the new DHS headquarters will bring thousands of workers to the neighborhood to buy food and supplies, along with attracting consulting firms doing business with DHS to office space nearby.
Most importantly, this new campus will enable DHS, created in 2002 by consolidating 20 separate and independent agencies and bureaus, to establish a common ‘corporate culture,’ and to respond quickly and effectively to national disasters. Last but not least, it will save the American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars when compared to leasing comparable space.