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Renovated and Expanded Mt. Pleasant Library Reopens to Great Acclaim

By Anthony L. Harvey

Images accompanying this feature can be viewed in the current issue PDF

Following a lengthy, multi-year design study, together with design review by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board and the federal Commission of Fine Arts, permit review by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, an appeal to the DC Zoning Commission, litigation before the DC Court of Appeals, and with the consultation and collaboration — both contentious and constructive — of residents and immediate neighbors, city-wide activists, community groups, and two ANCs, construction has been completed on the $11.2 million renovation and expansion of the historic Mt. Pleasant Public Library.

Located in a 1925 Italian Renaissance-style building constructed of brick and Indiana limestone with a ceramic tile roof at 16th and Lamont Streets, NW, diagonally across 16th Street from the Byzantine domed Church of the Sacred Heart on a site made available to the DC Library Board by Mary Foote Henderson; it also sits directly across from the last of Mrs. Henderson’s 16th Street mansions, one which until recently housed the parks and recreation department’s headquarters. This restored, renovated, and expanded branch library will provide the nearby Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights residents (and others) with dramatically expanded resources and services, along with spaces appropriate for community needs and uses.

The library sits on the 16th Street boundary between these two dynamic, multi-cultural neighborhoods, both of which are experiencing explosive population growths, as are other close-by neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan. Library space for 80,000 books, multi-media publications and compilations, movie and video DVDs and music CDs all are being provided to respond to this growth. These library materials will join 40 state-of-the art public access computers in the new facility on three levels of dramatically lighted and high ceiling floors — and in roughly double the previous amount of library space.

Long a capital construction priority for the Library Board of Trustees as well as Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham (the Mt. Pleasant branch is the only public library in his ward), the library’s expanded facilities have been created through both the removal of the existing three-level cast iron library stacks and the relocation of staff support services, building mechanicals, and internal stairways and elevator from the historic structure to the new building which is accessible through the sparkling glass atrium that ties the two structures together.

This new atrium provides a single, common entrance to both the old and the new buildings, one that is easily accessible by wheelchairs, strollers, and pedestrians. These accomplishments have been among the high priorities for DCPL Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper. While the length of the elliptical walkway connecting the Lamont Street sidewalk with the consolidated library entrance remains a bone of contention with some, many others, who find the length to be acceptable, point to the attractive side yard garden space on the walkway’s left boundary and of the advantage of everyone entering the library on the first level — with the adult reading room to the left, the elevator to the upper and lower levels located on one’s immediate right, and the high ceiling multi-media auditorium and meeting space with a seating capacity of 100 straight ahead.

A further aesthetic improvement to the library has been achieved by the strategic removal of interior obstructions within the original building which has opened up dramatic sight lines on each of the three floors from one side to the other. The result is an openness not previously possible from the ground floor adult non-fiction space and its teen center, through the main level adult reading room, and to the upper level children’s room where the historic Aurelius Battaglia murals featuring circus animals playing in a band are being further restored.

Renovation work during this second and final stage of the overall effort occurred following the earlier restoration of windows, doors, and original masonry of the 1925 building during the project’s first phase.

Architectural design work for the entire effort of coordinating the renovation and restoration of the historic structure with the design and construction of the new modernist building to its rear and integrating these two into a single functioning whole with all its consequent complexities and challenges was provided by a team of architects from the CORE Group in partnership with HMA2 architects and with the direct participation of the library system’s staff manager for the project, Chris Wright.

A late morning ribbon cutting re-opening event, presided over by Mayor Gray and other dignitaries including Chief Librarian Cooper and Councilmember Graham, was heavily attended by neighbors and residents from the surrounding area on September 12th. A Grand Opening community celebration will take place on Saturday, September 15th.

Editor’s Note: For background, see “Ambitious Expansion Plans for Library in Mt. Pleasant Roils Community; Many Object to Design and Question Programs,” October 2009, PDF page 1.