Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Time Has Come for New Library Project in F.C.

By Chet DeLong

The City Council invited the members of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library Board of Trustees to meet with Council members on June 20 at City Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to have the trustees explain their project for renovation and expansion of the library, as well as to give their reasons for wanting approval to go to referendum this fall. After introduction amenities, the City Manager suggested the trustees start.

Since two trustees (chair Brad Gernand and member Don Camp) could not be present, I provided opening remarks and a brief history of how the project got to this point.

First, it is the unanimous view of the Library Board of Trustees that the current plan for renovation and expansion of the library be placed before Falls Church Citizens as a referendum this fall. Approval of this plan has been recommended to the Council by the Planning Commission. In addition to the Fall referendum, the Board of Trustees requested that Council approve the referendum language in Ordinance TO 16-12, which covers any possible change of location according to the City Attorney.

Here is a brief summary describing, especially for the newer Council members, the project timeline to date.

By 2005-6, the Board of Trustees realized that the building was aging and no longer adequate to accommodate the fast-growing number of patrons using the building, as well as the rising rate of usage. The Council’s Dewberry Study, among other things, recommended (in the City Center Concept) a new library at 35,000 square feet, in a mixed-use building. Since that plan failed, the board considered the possibility of purchasing the land next door on Virginia Ave., and building a new library on the expanded space. For that purchase, $6.75 million was requested for the 2010 CIP ($2.8 million land acquisition and $3.95 million for design and construction). This was not approved, but the Planning Commission approved $2 million to exercise the right of first refusal if the opportunity arose to purchase the land. The request for the $6.75 million was denied for the FY 2011, 2012, and 2013 CIP budgets, yet the $2 million was retained and pushed into out year CIP budgets.

In November 2012, the City issued a Request For Proposal to assess the library’s space and services. The resultant Draft Master Plan suggested a new replacement library of 33,000 square feet at a cost of $ 17.7 million, or with parking, $18.9 million. The Board of Trustees took the new plan to the Planning Commission, where it was rejected, with the suggestion that the board plan for a more modest renovation and expansion for about $8 million. The board went back to the consultant, who drew up such a plan with a choice of expanding either to the west or the east at that cost. That is the plan now under consideration.

So you see, the Library Board of Trustees has been at this for almost 11 years, with several detours along the way, during which time the building systems have visibly deteriorated, in the face of constantly increasing numbers of patrons. We have managed to be a three- or four-star library for eight years in a row only because of our dedicated staff, not because of our overused, inadequate facility. Thus, we are anxious to go ahead with this modest plan which addresses the following points:

• Inadequate and insufficient space for juvenile, young adult and adult programs, conferences, local history items, quiet study space;
• No space for new items except on a “one in, one out” policy;

• Aisles, halls, shelf spacing, and restrooms are non-compliant with ADA requirements;

• HVAC is old & worn out – it must be updated to manage temperatures and humidity for the entire building;
• Elevator failing – parts are no longer made and are difficult to find. (Being trapped is no fun!);

• Efficient lighting needed – electrical and data services need upgrading, to provide a Silver LEEDS certified building;

• Plumbing is deficient – public restrooms are too few and too small;

• Security systems needed.

There have been several suggestions, too:

• We move to a new development (that didn’t work out – another delay);

• We split operations into two locations (more staffing plus coordination and supervision complications);

• We close the library for the 18-24 months necessary (Imagine the reading public’s reaction not to speak of staff loss, the halting of all book and materials orders, the loss of state aid, the resultant out of date collection and an extremely difficult restart almost from scratch).

It is time now to do this project, which the City has needed for a good while. This fall election will have a large turnout, giving all City citizens a chance to express their wishes regarding this project.

Please don’t let’s delay it further.

Please don’t count on some nice developer to come along and give us our dream library free.

 


Chet DeLong is the vice chair of the Mary Riley Styles Library Board of Trustees.