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Shaw and Mt. Vernon Neighborhoods Finally to See Actual Ground-breaking for Long-Awaited, New Watha T. Daniel Branch Library Building

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

To a standing room only audience of over 75 Shaw/Mt. Vernon residents and city-wide library activists, staff of the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) led by Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper and architects and planners from the firm of Davis, Brody, Bond, Aedas presented final plans, drawings, and a “to-scale” model for the new Watha T. Daniel/Shaw branch library slated for construction on the old library site at 7th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, NW. The new library building will use the basement foundation of the recently demolished, much reviled, 1970s Brutalism-style structure.

The crowded, fifth and final community design meeting represented the culmination of a design process that began in November of 2007. The meeting featured a clear, concise, and detailed — albeit lengthy — presentation by architect Peter Cook that focused on the building’s façades and architectural plans that will provide translucent glass wall panels and transparent window openings. This will provide natural light and the opportunity for ambient outside breezes illuminating and circulating through all three levels of the proposed new library, explained the architect. And with a cleverly designed raised lattice-like screen on the Rhode Island side of the building, and a bold, notched opening at the 7th Street tip of the triangular structure’s tall glass lobby-like front entrance, architect Cook projected a library suffused with natural light during the day and glowing from the inside out when illuminated during evening hours.

This presentation responded directly to community concerns about a previous cost-cutting design refinement that would have replaced the clear channel glass portion of the façade with shiny metal panels and additional windows.

A second important community request, which was for a dedicated computer training capability, was responded to by the Library staff with the promise of a reconfiguration of interior spaces to ensure that conference and meeting room facilities would be equipped with furniture incorporating electric outlets and Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) access capabilities for use on-site with lap top computers. These computers would be stored adjacently on racked carts and thus could be easily rolled into the training facilities for both formal and informal instructional sessions.

Community concerns for planned security features in the new library were addressed by Jeff Bonvechio, Director of Capital Projects, who assured the audience that closed-circuit, 24-hour surveillance cameras would cover all interior spaces as well as entrance areas around the facility; security staffing, however, has yet to be determined.

The green building/vegetative roof question overtook a sprightly explication of the architects’ design plans for a LEED Silver Certified green building. Costs for the new building’s structure and the installation and continuing maintenance costs for the actual vegetative roof membrane and grass, plant, and shrub covering were cited by both architects and library administrators as budget busters. Their emphasis, in response to the community, was on the heat reduction of the reflective white roof surface being planned, together with 100 percent capturing of storm water being designed into the structure.

Contrary views were proffered; Chris Otten, Community Outreach Director for Ralph Nader’s DC Library Renaissance Project, spoke to the nationally reported example of the Portland Library putting a vegetative roof on its Beaux Arts-style Carnegie central library building for a cost of only $180,000 to $200,000. Several other Shaw residents expressed their disappointment at the lack of plans for a green — that is, vegetative roof.

Greater receptivity was expressed, however, for requests from Otten and others for narrative statements, street name labeling, and function name specifications on posted building floor plans and design drawings. Rooftop solar panels were also discussed, with the architectural firm’s expert consultant reporting that such would not be cost effective.

On questions of budgeted cost estimates, Chief Librarian Cooper clarified the confusion between reported costs of $9.5 and $15.7 million for the project by noting that the $9.5 million represented building construction costs alone, with an additional $6.2 million reflecting the total $15.7 million project cost. This larger of the two amounts includes all other expenses — design and engineering, permitting and project management, site preparation, interior fixtures and furniture, and initial collections.

Additional funds for the library site’s competitively selected outdoor neon sculpture by Shaw resident Craig Kraft, and interior murals by Byron Peck’s arts workshop, are being resurrected from funds previously pledged by the Walter Washington Convention Center’s community amenity grant and a Federal Highway Administration beautification grant administered by DC’s Department of Transportation, with supplemental funds and project management promised by Mayor Adrien Fenty from that of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, according to Shaw Main Street Director and ANC Commissioner Alex Padro.

Ground-breaking for the fully funded project is slated for later this fall, with occupancy and a grand opening planned for March of 2010. Meanwhile, circulation of library materials at the nearby, small interim branch library continues at a rate twice that of the old, five times larger facility. And use of 20 state-of-the art computers is constantly “fully subscribed” at the interim branch library.