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Capital Auto Auction, officials battle over old Crummel School site

(Published February 12, 2001)


Staff Writer

Traffic clogs Gallaudet Street NE in Ivy City Feb. 8 as bidders arrive at the old Crummel School site for Capital Auto Auction’s weekly Thursday auction of vehicles. The city is trying to evict the auction, which primarily sells cars for charitable organizations that receive them as donations, but the auction’s owners say they want to buy the old school and its grounds.

Historic Crummel School, long-vacant and deteriorating in Ward 5’s Ivy City neighborhood, has become the center of a dispute between the area’s largest auctioneer of vehicles donated to charity and the D.C. government.

The Office of Property Management "has initiated eviction proceedings" against Capital Auto Auction to remove its vehicle storage and weekly Thursday auctions from the former school’s grounds on Gallaudet Street NE, said Elena Temple, a spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

But Mark Loesberg, the auction’s co-owner, said he has received "no notice" of eviction proceedings against his company and doesn’t understand why the government doesn’t just sell him the surplus property on which he submitted an $800,000 bid last year.

"Why can’t somebody come down and talk with me about this? They know I’m here," an exasperated-sounding Loesberg said during a telephone interview on Feb. 10. Loesberg described his company’s lease on the city-owned property as "month-to-month."

Capital Auto Auction began using the Ivy City schoolyard about a year ago as an overflow lot for its primary auction site, across the street from the main post office at 1905 Brentwood Road NE. Previously, the auction stored overflow vehicles at city-owned property on W Street NE, a site Loesberg said his company agreed to vacate as part of the Crummel lease arrangement so that city officials could make the site available to nearby Black Entertainment Television for expansion.

Ivy City residents complain that the Thursday auctions have brought disruptive traffic to the neighborhood’s narrow streets and perpetuate the area’s seedy character that some activists are trying to improve. The area is scarred with abandoned properties and has long been known for active drug dealing.

"I find it kind of amazing that people in Ivy City would be complaining about what we’re doing," Loesberg said, adding that he invested about $30,000 in cleaning up the Crummel School grounds for the auction’s use. "We’re the least of their problems."

Government officials appear to be remaining somewhat tight-lipped about the current status of the old school property. Temple was unable to provide details about the city’s lease with Capital Auto Auction except to say "it clearly has expired and they clearly are not moving." And while officials from some city offices acknowledged telephoned requests for more information, few details were immediately forthcoming. Others simply did not respond to calls.

Crummel School, which enrolled only black children before the city’s schools were integrated, is one of more than 30 former D.C. public schools that the presidentially appointed financial control board last year removed from the school system’s property portfolio. Use of the property is now under the mayor’s control.

The property appears to be much sought after by a number of people, in addition to Capital Auto Auction. City officials issued a request for proposals and received three bids for the property last year, including the one from Capitol Auto Auction. Loesberg and others said an unidentified religious organization submitted the highest bid but has apparently been unable to secure the necessary financing to date. Loesberg said he believes his company submitted the second-highest bid and still wants to buy the former school and its surrounding grounds.

Capital Auto Auction has conducted weekly Saturday auctions at its Brentwood Road site for almost 12 years and has become the "official" auctioneer for vehicles donated to the Salvation Army. Loesberg said his company auctions off about 600 cars a week in the District, with proceeds from 90 percent of the sales going to nearly 40 charitable organizations that sell the donated vehicles through his company.

Capital Auto Auction also has a location in Cheverly, Md., and operates auctions in Philadelphia and Manchester, N.H.

Advisory neighborhood commissioners identified Nashville-based Accu-crete Inc., a construction company owned by David Hudgens, as another bidder for the former Crummel School. Hudgens, who among his more high-profile charitable activities offered to pay for re-seeding the Garrison Elementary School playground during a dispute two years ago between Shaw residents and Metropolitan Baptist Church, did not respond to a call for comment. Residents said he has met with community groups to outline his proposal, which includes heavy industrial use of the land as well as job-training programs and space for a police substation.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator