By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Officials with The Campagna Center are in the early stages of considering selling its headquarters, with a request for proposals expected to be issued this month.
The center has been at its current site at 418 S. Washington St. since the 1980s, on a plot of land that has been dedicated to educational purposes since 1812. The local nonprofit provides services to more than 2,000 children and families in Alexandria, including preschool and after-school programming as well as an English Language Learner program for adults.
To ensure the center continues to meet the challenges ahead, including an increasing number of people needing its services, officials adopted a strategic plan in August 2015, which included the formation of a so-called mission and capacity committee to examine the center’s use of its space. That committee was made up of board and non-board members, and met nine times.
“I think it’s really less about finding a new place, it’s really more about making sure that we are doing everything we can to fulfill the mission of the organization and serve the children and families that are a part of what we do,” said Walter Lukens, chairman of the committee.
As such, very little has been decided at this point. A request for proposals is slated for issuance before the end of the month to see what might be available elsewhere and whether the current building can be leveraged in any way.
“All that we’ve decided for sure is we’ve got to test the market,” said The Campagna Center board chairman Dave Millard. “I think we’re going to lead a pretty rigorous effort to identify the best [commercial real estate] brokerage firm and team to help us ascertain the true value of the building we’ve got as well as explore opportunities that may exist elsewhere.”
Officials with the center said the old building can present challenges, especially for those who come in to receive services.
“Many times I walk through the door of the building and we have families who are coming here, particularly for our early childhood program, and our ability to create the right kind of setting to talk with them about what their needs are [is hampered],” said president and CEO Tammy Mann. “Many times we’re talking about sensitive information, which is kind of happening at the dining room table.”
“When you think about things like the intake of people, a family comes in and they want to avail themselves of The Campagna Center programs and they have to come to Old Town, well there’s no place for them to provide personal information in order to be able to get into some of the programs,” said Lukens. “You have to do that in a very makeshift way that is hard.”
And further to that point, Lukens said the high ceilings mean that while the building is 17,000 square feet in total, it can feel underutilized, especially considering the overhead costs of electricity and heating.
“It’s a beautiful old building, but having said that, old buildings come with their own set of issues,” said Lukens. “The space is not the best utilized space in the entire world. If we could pile desks up on top of one another, the high ceilings would be beautiful to that, so it’s not as functional as it might be and it’s old. The upkeep of that is a significant expense.”
With more and more families from the West End using The Campagna Center’s services, Millard said it might make sense to look in that area if a move from Old Town is approved. He said the center would prefer to purchase a new building rather than rent, especially since its current location is debt-free.
In the meantime, officials said a key point of emphasis will be engagement with all stakeholders at The Campagna Center and garnering their opinions on the future.
“The first big priority is that everybody is involved in the process,” Lukens said. “For us, that means everybody from the families that we work with through the staff through the people who support what we do from a donation point of view to our partners in the city and in the schools. What motivates this more than anything is a desire to deliver the services and to be impactful from a mission point of view in everything that we do.
“As we go through this process, that’s the lens, that’s the perspective we’re going to go back to over and over again.”
“We’ve been very fortunate to have a very talented group of people working with us, and that’s made the process a lot easier to step through when you have the right minds around the table,” said Mann. “We’ve been very deliberative. There’s not a lot of interest in doing something in a hasty way. We believe we’re in a position of strength to try to have this proactive process in front of us.”