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Marie Reed Building and Site Modernization Designs and Plans Continue to be Refined; Recent Presentation Allays Many Concerns

Accompanying images can be viewed in the January 2016 issue pdf

By Anthony L. Harvey

Progress in the detailed planning and preparation of specifications for the modernization and adaptive re-use of the Marie H. Reed Learning Center and its multi-acre Adams Morgan site by the District’s Department of General Services (DGS) and the architectural firm of Quinn Evans continues into the new year on the basis of a planning document issued by the architects on October 22, 2015.

That document reflected Quinn Evans’ understanding of what the District could afford to spend in the re-making of Marie Reed to meet modern requirements as stipulated by the District’s school system (DCPS) and the parks and recreation department (DPR) together with those specified by the District’s Department of Health (DOH) backed by funds identified by the DC Council in support of modernization of the health facilities presently housed in the Marie Reed building.

The Quinn Evans foundational document for this effort, titled “Schematic Design Progress for the Marie H. Reed Learning Center, Presented to the Community,” was made available solely on-line; no printed copies were provided to the community. The actual presentation by the architects occurred at a relatively short, community-wide forum in held the Marie Reed elementary school gathering space.

Beautifully prepared and containing fascinating images and architectural drawings, the architects and DGS did themselves a disservice by not having color copies of the document printed and distributed to the community forum attendees.

The “Schematic Design Progress” document displays dramatic preliminary drawings of new and expanded spaces in a prospective adaptive re-use of the Marie Reed building. These include a widened indoor swimming pool allowing for an additional lane and a new gymnasium and multipurpose room; new enlarged windows, skylights, and louvered openings for enhanced natural lighting; the opening of viewsheds toward the Washington Monument; an ambitious green building; and handsome landscaping, together with additional separate entranceways for DCPS and DPR on the west side of the building. In addition, included are images depicting the type of design for the playgrounds, garden plots, and a new civic plaza facing 18th Street.

The document is color coded throughout with important considerations of security, access, and circulation for the community and the DCPS, DPR, and health services managers and users indicated for each respective use by such coded colors.

While never explaining the September fast track issuance of a “Design Build RFP” for Marie Reed modernization and its use of hypothetical design specifications at odds with either the Adams Morgan ANC’s extraordinary community design and Envision Adams Morgan documents or the earlier concept drawings from Quinn Evans, the architects dispelled such inflammatory notions as the replacement of the Happy Hollow children’s outdoor swimming pool with surface parking by noting that the “Design Build RFP” apparently had been hurriedly issued by DGS to protect the Capital Budget funds for the project.

Quinn Evans did nothing, however, to assuage concerns over the lack of any proposed improvement by DPR of the Happy Hollow facility or the enlargement of DPR’s currently woefully inadequate recreational center. Nor did the architects answer the expressed concerns by the community over the absence of a dedicated performance space or of new adult social service facilities requested in the ANC’s design document regarding Marie Reed in the previous named documents, the first being the “Marie H. Reed Learning Center: A Vision for Its Renewal” or in the ANC’s sponsored survey and compilation named titled “Envision Adams Morgan.” There is also no designation in the site design documents for a future presence of a DC Public Library branch facility on the Marie Reed site — the only large, undeveloped land in Adams Morgan. and in this case publicly owned.

Nonetheless, there is much in the “Schematic Design Progress” document that does respond to primary community concerns, beginning with the important and oft-stated desire to retain and protect all of the present Marie Reed site as a preserve for civic and community uses and for the continued support and improvement of all present occupants of the site — the elementary school, the parks and recreation facilities, and the health services and clinic, the daycare center, and the women, infants and children (WIC) nutritional distribution facility.

Also of positive note is the architects’ redesign sensitivity to an adaptive re-use of the solidly constructed and iconic modernist Marie Reed structure itself, one reflecting cutting-edge architectural design when built in the 1970s and in its incorporation of innovating concepts of co-locating multiple community educational and social services in the same building or interconnected facilities.

Less successful in the original design, however, was the overuse of the open school plan and the downplaying of window transparency or the use of natural light to soften the building mass and lighten the appearance of the building’s interior instructional spaces. The Quinn Evans solutions to these problems are often ingenious — for example, traditional classrooms surrounding a shared open space in one area for the younger children and a separate area for the older students. The proposed larger and additional windows, skylights, and openable louvers throughout the building are inspirational, as is the design separation and security features for the individual occupants of a modernized Marie Reed.

Editor’s Note: The “Schematic Design Progress” document can be viewed on the Adams Morgan ANC website. While we first reported on this modernization project one year ago, in January of 2015, our most recent previous report, “Kalorama Citizens Group Objects to Suddenly Disclosed Sports and Recreation Facilities Reduction in Marie Reed Modernization Plan,” can be read on page 1 of the October 2015 issue pdf.