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Residents Hear Plans for Parks, Library at VPIS Meeting

Falls Church residents packed American Legion post 130 to hear plans for the future of parks and Mary Riley Styles Public Library last Sunday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)
Falls Church residents packed American Legion post 130 to hear plans for the future of parks and Mary Riley Styles Public Library last Sunday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)

by Patricia Leslie

New officers, awards, parks, and an expanded library were on the agenda at the fall membership meeting of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, which met Sunday, Nov. 9, at the American Legion Post 130 on North Oak Street.

About 80 people came to hear the ideas of two panels. One of the panels presented information about the city’s need for more parks, improved parks and more parking at parks and the other presented library expansion plans.

The panel on parks presented first. “Parks are just as important as schools,” said Steve Selby, a member of the city’s Advisory Board for Recreation and Parks.

Danny Schlitt, the City’s director of Recreation and Parks, said Falls Church’s goal is to link one side of the town with the other side using public parks.

Rob Meeks, a member of the Falls Church Planning Commission, said interest in lacrosse has grown from 100 to 500 players per year. The lack of area playing fields leads to driving “all over Northern Virginia for practice, which is tough at rush hour,” he said.

Practice time for different outdoor sports, like soccer, has diminished because participation in the sports has increased and access to playing fields is limited, Schlitt said.

“Pocket parks” or “paper streets,” small areas which belong to the city but are not paved, are not clearly delineated and do not always “have great benefit,” according to Meeks, are an area of concern.
Sometimes nearby neighbors begin encroaching on these properties and assume possession for their own personal uses.

During the second part of the program, Falls Church director of library services Mary McMahon described the overcrowded conditions and the need for expansion at the City’s single library Mary Riley Styles Public Library. The library’s last major renovation was in 1993.

The library is open every day, 64 hours every week and the collection has grown to 130,000 volumes with a circulation of almost a half million.

That 91 percent of Falls Church residents have library cards is “unheard of,” she said – the state average is between 30 and 50 percent. She supplied more evidence of the library’s popularity. She said the library answered more than 68,000 questions and presented 654 programs attended by 19,000 people in a recent year. The Falls Church library is one of only two in the state to receive the national “star” library award for seven consecutive years.

Jeff Peterson, a member of Sunday’s library panel and on the Library’s Board of Trustees, said visits to the library have increased by more than 100,000 since 2005.

Parking at the library is a problem, too.

McMahon said two different consultants have basically recommended the same library additions of more than 15,000 square feet to accommodate present and future needs, and satisfy requirements of the American for Disabilities Act which necessitates 2,000 feet to meet standards.

However, to reduce spending, the expansion has been cut by more than half to 8,000 square feet at half the cost ($8 million) which includes no new parking.

Any changes and improvements to the library must be approved by the Planning Commission before the question is put to the City Council which will decide if citizens can have input by voting on a bond issue to fund the library expansion. That may happen in 2016. The city is talking with 18 to 20 neighboring office property owners at 313 Park Avenue about additional library parking, McMahon said.

Chester W. DeLong, another panel member and vice chair of the Library Board of Trustees, said the library “needs citizens to go to bat for us….It takes a whole city. We need your help.”