Peter Batten of the Spectrum Group last week unveiled an option for the relocation of at least a portion of Falls Church’s Mary Riley Styles Public Library to a new two-story, 24,000 square-foot building in its proposed 4.3-acre Mason Row development at the intersection of West Broad and North West Street. The plan was presented to a special meeting at City Hall last Friday afternoon.
Batten told the News-Press that he was approached by a member of the Falls Church City Council concerning an exploration of the option about four months ago while the City’s Library Board was wrestling with options for renovating and expanding the library at its current location and was running up against severe space and cost limitations.
Cost estimates for an adequate renovation and expansion of the present library location on Park Avenue have been seen as exorbitantly high in the view of some on the City Council. One estimate developed with the aid of consultants put the cost at nearly $20 million, and a subsequent plan was priced at $8 million, but requiring another $3 million to build a parking deck on an adjacent private property, should an agreement be worked out.
Publicly so far, Vice Mayor David Snyder and Council member Dan Sze have said they’d like to see such a possibility explored. At Monday’s Falls Church City Council meeting, Snyder said criteria for consideration of the option would be a substantial reduction in the cost of renovation plans at the library’s current site, and an ability to show a capacity for what “modern libraries” bring to the public, including large open spaces.”
City Manager Wyatt Shields said the proposal “merits further consideration.” He said the developer “has offered some preliminary numbers” and that “the overall deal structure has a lot of components to it.”
City Councilman Nader Baroukh was skeptical in his comments at Monday’s meeting, saying he’d need to know “the ramifications for the current library” and wondering “where is the Library Board on this?”
The proposal was slated to be discussed at a meeting of the Council’s Economic Development subcommittee Thursday.
“A library would be a very beneficial use in a project like Mason Row,” Batten said in comments to the News-Press. “It would increase the visibility and profile of the library while providing it with a comparably affordable new space with plenty of parking.”
(An advantage would also be the ability of library users to eat and shop on the same trip, something which is a toxic option for library users at its current location, given the eagerness of a towing company to remove vehicles from the adjacent Broaddale Shopping Center the minute a patron steps off that property to include a trip to the library. Lighting and proximity of other businesses would also make a new library at Mason Row safer than a location on a dark side street).
Batten said the building Spectrum has proposed would have 15,000 square feet on the first floor and 9,000 on the second. The City, under the current conceptual plan, would buy the building and move all or part of the library there. The proposal is expected to be included in the next Mason Row hearing before a City Council work session next week.
A ground swell of opposition to the idea of a move has become evident, and the News-Press has learned that at least two FOIA requests for Council and City Hall email correspondences on the subject have been filed by individual citizens.