By Carla Branch

4850 Mark Center Drive proposed location for DCHS, Health Department (courtesy photo)

The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday took several steps toward consolidating and co-locating Department of Community and Human Services and Alexandria Health Department staff by 2022. Neighborhood Health may also have a presence in the new facility at 4850 Mark Center Drive.

City Council authorized Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks to negotiate lease with an option to purchase the building at 4850 Mark Center Dive, which is owned by the Institute for Defense Analyses, which is constricting a new facility in Potomac Yard. IDA plans to move in 2022.  

DCHS and Health Department operations currently occupy over 210,000 square feet of space in eight different locations, with leases at four facilities expiring in the near term. Most of the spaces are overcrowded, outdated and do not meet modern standards for office and clinic space. The two largest leased DCHS buildings are on the East End of Alexandria, while most of DCHS clients now live in the West End of the City.

Following space programming, market survey analysis of available properties in the West End of the City, staff site tours, due diligence studies and space stacking exercises, three properties in the Mark Center office park bordered by 1-395, Seminary Road, and Beauregard Street were considered. Staff is recommending the 4850 Mark Center Drive building as it best meets the space needs for co-location; is the newest; is in the best physical condition; and is the least expensive of the options. The occupancy of this building will occur later than the other options, in the third quarter or fourth quarter of 2022. The $19 million cost differential between the lowest cost 4850 building and the next lowest option, as well as the additional space available for the Health Department were considered in making this determination. Given the poor conditions of two existing DCHS office sites, (2525 Mount Vernon Avenue and 720 N. St. Asaph Street) and the longer wait to occupy the 4850 building, General Services and DCHS will work with DCHS staff to enhance their existing office space as part of the longer term transition plan to the new building. 

The City will have an option to buy 4850 Mark Center Drive for $66.7 million in mid-2021 prior to DCHS occupancy, and for fair market value in 2037 which is near the end of the initial 15-year lease term. Owning would be less expensive then leasing over time but it will entail the City issuing debt obligations to finance. Staff will continue to analyze various lease or own scenarios and develop a debt financing plan that smooths debt service payments over a 20-year period. Once staff has analyzed options, if acquisition remains the best long-term financial option, staff will return to Council (likely in 2019) to request authorization to acquire the building.

IDA building not only has the lowest rental rate and most reasonable purchase price option but, according to the staff memo presented to Council, best meets the requirements of DCHS and the Health Department and will enable both departments to fully collaborate and engage staff in a comprehensive service delivery model that will result in better outcomes for the residents of the City of Alexandria.