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Advocates Welcome Architects’ Initial Work on New Archives Building, But Questions Remain

Fritz Mulhauser | October 17, 2022

After years of delay, a new D.C. archives building came one step closer to life with a September 1 draft report from its architects. But reviewers in the community are concerned much remains to be clarified, according to comments submitted by three groups to the D.C. Office of Public Records, the office advising the D.C. Department of General Services on the work of the Hartman-Cox Architects.

Concerns raised by the Friends of D.C. Archives, the Archives Advisory Group established by the D.C. Council, and the D.C. Open Government Coalition included:

  • adequacy of space for present small staff but also its necessary growth
  • missing treatment of electronic records, and no sign of involvement of the Office of Chief Technology Officer as D.C. Council directed
  • adequacy of space for public engagement, training, and records conservation
  • much more clarification needed on many aspects of plans involving UDC including shared space for university archives and the Felix Grant Jazz Archive
  • lack of any survey of current records held by agencies (or plans to move them to new facility)
  • lactation room smaller than necessary  
  • energy-use goals (LEED rating) set too low, will miss DC targets
  • missing plans for community role in remaining planning stages
  • and crucially, how cost is being considered so that added funding needs are agreed on and approved now.

None of the commenting groups report hearing plans from D.C officials to discuss these concerns with the community as planning goes forward. The public could attend a presentation of the report last month, but the agenda lacked any time for in-depth discussion of issues and possible solutions and there has not yet been any follow-up where officials could propose and test ideas. The form for submitting comments allowed 600 words.

The present 250-page document is a draft, so plans for finalizing its text in light of the many concerns are of special interest.

The D.C. Council earlier this year heard testimony, including from the Open Government Coalition, on years of confusion for the public when the executive branch was not coordinated or transparent about the project, originally included in the capital budget almost a decade ago. Crucial budget details remained confusing this year as different officials testified that prior cost estimates would be adhered to (or not).

Two committees’ budget reports for the new fiscal year 2023 that began October 1 directed more attention to public input on the restarted plans (for example, noting “there is room to improve the planning and development of a new DC Archives facility by including voices of the public”) and that the technology office should work with the interested public as it takes part in planning.  

Records issues are in the headlines, as the National Archives works to assure government materials survive to tell a full story of history. With upcoming elections in the District of Columbia, is it clear how records of departing D.C. officials will be safeguarded, including Attorney General Karl Racine and long-time D.C. Council member, Mary Cheh?  

The Coalition’s comments on the first draft planning paper are here. Friends of the D.C. Archives comments are here. And Archives Advisory Group comments are here.