While construction of the university’s new retreat center in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains was initially anticipated to be completed by the end of this year, ground breaking has been delayed due to permit problems.

In 2005, Georgetown purchased 56 acres of land bordering the Appalachian Trail for $1.4 million, and then began planning for the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, a retreat center that would become home to many of the programs sponsored by the university’s Office of Campus Ministry, including ESCAPE.

Arthur Calcagnini Jr. (CAS ’54), believing that Georgetown retreat programs should have their own center, gave $10 million to the center in 2006. According to a university press release issued in 2006, officials believed that the center could be ready for guests by the end of 2008.

However, the university has yet to obtain several permits and submit a necessary zoning application.

One issue has been sewer-system drain fields on the property, which Georgetown took about nine months to assess, according to a report in the Winchester Star, a local Virginia newspaper, last year. The university must now apply for a new drainage permit.

According to Fr. Philip Boroughs, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry, these sewer-system issues are now the focus of the university’s application. For now, though, the university has decided to delay its application for this permit.

“Our application was delayed by our university architect, Alan Brangman, because we are still in the process of completing the site plan, which is a key element to the application process,” he said.

Another point of contention has been the use of the Hohenheim house, a 19th-century dwelling situated on the plot of land purchased by the university. Built in 1893, the property hosted several “diplomatic visitors,” including Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, according to a Winchester Star report.

The structure is part of a proposed historic district along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains known as Bear’s Den Rural Historic District. If approved, the district would be made part of the National Register of Historic Places, but would be honorary and not restrictive on property owners.

Georgetown has chosen not to incorporate the Hohenheim building into its plans for the retreat center.

“We have given a lot of thought to the potential use of the Hohenheim house in our plans, but ultimately decided not to keep it,” Boroughs said. “Because we would need to change the use of the house from residential to institutional use, we would have to meet a variety of code issues which would make it prohibitively expensive, and with all the renovation that would require, we would still not have a facility which would meet the programmatic needs we would want covered by that building.”

Boroughs added that the university would be consulting with the neighborhood residents as they further develop their plans.

Despite the delays, Georgetown officials have expressed their desire to get construction underway.

“Georgetown is committed to moving forward with plans for a new contemplative center,” said Andy Pino, director of media relations at Georgetown. “We’ve met with county authorities and with members of the community, and we are continuing to follow the process that is in place. We plan to submit the zoning application to Clarke County this fall.”

There will be a meeting today between Brangman and Boroughs to further discuss plans for the site.

According to the 2006 press release, the construction process, once underway, should take about 12 months.

The completed center will be used primarily for the ESCAPE program retreats, but will also house other retreat programs and faculty and staff retreats. The facility will have a cluster of one-story buildings with a kitchen, two dining areas and a reception area. In addition, there will be two buildings with meeting rooms and smaller gathering spaces, a chapel, and a series of bedrooms with private bathrooms that can be used as singles, doubles or triples.

At present, ESCAPE will continue to use other spaces until the new facility is complete.

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