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Public Oversight Hearing on the District of Columbia's Capital Improvements Program

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Public Oversight Hearing on the District of Columbia's Capital Improvements Program

Interim Director Ella Thomas gave testimony at hearing for District of Columbia Capital Improvements Program.

Good morning, Chairman Cropp and members of the Committee of the Whole. I am Ella Thomas, Interim Director of the DC Department of Mental Health. Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today about our capital projects for 2004 and 2005. 

In 2005, we celebrated the150th anniversary of St. Elizabeths Hospital, which has been in continuous operation since 1855.  We are the stewards of this august institution where many of today’s psychiatric techniques were pioneered.

It is significant that our most important capital project is construction of the new, 292-bed, state-of-the-art building on the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus.

As you are aware, St. Elizabeths’ patients continue to live and receive treatment in outdated buildings on the hospital’s East Campus. These buildings no longer meet our patients’ needs for treatment nor do they provide a suitable living environment to promote recovery from mental illness. They need to be replaced and replacement is underway.

Our very first contract for the new hospital building project was for signage and was awarded to a Ward 8 LSDBE-certified company. Motorists and pedestrians along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Alabama Avenue see the first evidence that a new hospital building is coming. 

Bids were accepted and an LSDBE contractor, Forney Enterprises, has begun work for the first phase of construction of the new hospital–early roads and moving utilities to prepare the site. This phase is approximately 90 percent complete and costs a little more than $2.4 million.

We continue to work closely with the Ward 8 community, including residents and businesses, to ensure their full involvement with us.

Three buildings are being kept functional to assure we have capacity to accommodate patients in case the census exceeds 292 when the new building is occupied. We are renovating these other buildings and the first step is to create stand-alone utilities for them. Additional renovations will upgrade the other quality of life and safety conditions so they meet standards required by law and regulation. We also are in the middle of a complete elevator modernization program in these buildings.

We are upgrading the elevators in the John Howard Pavilion at St. Elizabeths Hospital to keep them operatioal and safe until it is replaced by the new facility. 

Other milestones met include completing the zoning process and obtaining the Certificate of Need.  I am happy to report we have approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and the Fine Arts Commission. Also, construction documents are 100 percent completed and are being reviewed for permitting by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Another milestone was reached last summer when we vacated the West Campus and the federal government became responsible for maintaining this site.

Now, I would like to mention other important capital projects.

We have completed renovation of the North Center, at 1125 Spring Road, NW, where we provide community services to adults. We also have made several structural improvements to the Paul Robeson School, where we provide services to children. The Robeson School is next to the North Center. These renovations improve life safety and quality of life for staff and consumers alike.

We upgraded the elevators in our 35 K Street, NE community services site.

In FY 2005, DMH began a partnership with the Housing Finance Agency to better leverage our capital dollars to produce affordable housing for consumers. Using $5.4 million in FY 2005 capital dollars, we have 214 units in the pipeline. 

Thank you very much for this opportunity to discuss our capital projects. I will be very happy to answer your questions.