- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

The D.C. Council has taken steps to bar a planned move of the fire department’s headquarters to a shuttered school in Southeast in an effort to save the budget-crunched District about $30 million.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in June announced the planned relocation of the headquarters for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, along with the Department of Corrections, to the Patricia Roberts Harris Educational Center on Livingston Road.

But in the council’s markup of Mr. Fenty’s $5.4 billion fiscal 2010 budget proposal, the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary opted to cancel the move.

“The government is contracting,” said Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who also serves as the committee chairman. “With this economy, we can’t afford spending roughly $29 million this year in this budget.”

Mr. Mendelson said the moves also would not be in the best interest of the agencies or the public.

“It makes no sense to move the headquarters of both fire and corrections all the way across town and away from the center of government activity,” he said.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and a member of the committee, cited discussions with Mr. Mendelson as to why she voted to cancel the move.

“The way he explained it to me was that the building was way at the other side of the District and not centrally or even near centrally located,” Mrs. Cheh said.

Harris was one of more than 20 schools planned for closure under a restructuring plan proposed by Mr. Fenty and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to cut costs and eliminate excess space. The fire and corrections departments’ current headquarters are in the old Grimke Elementary School on Vermont Avenue in Northwest.

If the proposed relocation falls through, it could put plans for the Grimke school at risk. Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said the city issued a solicitation for development partners for Grimke and has received three bids, including two from charter schools.

“We definitely had a plan for what we wanted to do,” Mr. Madigan said.

Asked for comment regarding the proposed move, D.C. fire officials referred to an April 6 letter sent by Chief Dennis L. Rubin to Mr. Mendelson on the possibility of budget cuts that could result in the department having to “place ambulances and fire trucks out of service or close fire houses.”

The letter did not refer to the proposed move.

The mayor’s press office also sent a copy of the letter to The Washington Times when asked for comment on the move and how it would affect the Grimke school. Fenty spokeswoman Leslie Kershaw also said officials did not want to comment on a specific budget item while the council is still deliberating over the spending plan.

The committee’s recommendation follows the cancellation of another proposed move by a public safety agency. City officials previously planned to move the Metropolitan Police Department’s headquarters, along with other police units, to a vacant building at 225 Virginia Ave. SE.

The move was nixed in 2007 largely because of cost concerns, leaving the District with a $6.5 million per year lease for the building. Mr. Madigan said the city is “negotiating a future use for that site.”

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