The Mary Riley Styles Public Library’s board of trustees voted at its meeting last week to opt for a money and time-saving option to close the library during its renovation and expansion next year, except for certain functions that will be temporarily relocated. In the F.C. City Council’s vote Monday night to go ahead with the project, two critical design issues favored by the library board remained and were the subject of a robust discussion that led one Council member to vote “No.”
The issues remain unresolved for the time being, with Council members split on their personal preferences on the two matters Monday. The issues debated were the alternative options for the location of the front entrance to the new library, on the one hand, and whether the children’s programs should be centered on the main floor, or a lower level of the new structure.
Council member Letty Hardi, with three children in the City schools, was an impassioned advocate for keeping the children’s programs on the main level, and the non-binding consensus of her colleagues, along with the recommended preference of the library board, to pursue the other choice apparently prompted her “No” vote when the roll call occurred at the end of the discussion, although she made no specific comment on her vote.
There are three community information sessions that have been scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 1 and 2, in the library conference room (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday at 9:30 a.m.) at 120 N. Virginia Ave., and Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Farmer’s Market at 9:30 a.m.
Construction is due to begin in September 2019 and be completed by September 2021.
The library board’s vice chair Chet DeLong spoke to the Council earlier in the meeting saying the board’s preference for placing the children’s programs on the lower level was endorsed by F.C. Police Chief Mary Gavin, who spoke to the board at its meeting last week and cited the greater safety and control benefits of having the children on the lower level. Gavin said that security would be better in the event of both natural and man-made crises. There would also be a significant increase in the space available (an increase of 300 percent) for the programs at the lower level.
On the second issue, concerning the location of the public entrance to the new facility, the library board indicated its preference for placing the entrance at the corner of N. Virginia and Park Avenue, where access would be equally available from three sides. However, the concern by some on the Council was that there is a Dominion Power pole located nearer that entrance, which could complicate the public’s comings and goings, and also complicate those not heading to the library, but down Virginia Avenue to businesses on W. Broad a block away.
Also, the library board recommendation would move the Local History Room up from its current lower level to “become a prominent feature of the library” on the main floor.
The specific issue Monday night was the Council’s vote to allocate $195,000 for “construction management at risk pre-construction services” awarded to Centennial Contractors Enterprises, Inc., which triggers specific design efforts.
The total allocated by a public referendum approved by Falls Church voters in 2016 was for $8.7 million but project estimates came in way higher than the referendum amount earlier this year. Centennial was among the bidders who offered a significant reduction in the cost and time if the library was closed during construction.
The library board agreed to the idea, and will look to relocate some vital services to 400 N. Washington St. which is the current temporary location for City Hall, whose renovation is currently underway.
The selection of Centennial from among four pre-qualified bidders was made by a team of Jennifer Carroll, the library director, Michael Whitfield, the director of the City’s Department of Public Works, Kimberly Callahan, the City’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) manager, and consultants Akida Rouzi and Mark Manetti.
Callahan and Carroll answered most of the questions from the Council, along with City Manager Wyatt Shields.
Centennial’s work in the first phase begins with a kick-off meeting with the BKV Group design team and will involve cost studies, the establishment of construction schedules, staging and logistics planning, design reviews and progress meetings, resulting in “guaranteed maximum price” (GMP) documents prior to a final Council approval and the kicking off the construction work.
All the variances required to construct the project, including those pertaining to impervious area coverage and front yard setbacks, will be prepared by the City staff for approval by the Council. Among other things, they call for a bump-out onto Park Avenue of the sidewalk at the corner of N. Virginia and Park that will make it easier to cross the street to the library from Cherry Hill Park.
It was stated Monday that Dominion Power will be contacted about moving the power pole further away from the new entrance at the Park/N. Virginia corner. The undergrounding of the power lines there would be prohibitively expensive, although the City is exploring a longer-term option of undergrounding the power lines along Park Avenue.