Friday, August 15, 2008

Plans for West End Library Renovations

The District will soon write the next chapter of its library tales when it issues a solicitation for developers for Square 37, home of the West End Branch of the DC Public Library, sometime this fall. Though the West End's story does not have a plot as dramatic as that of the Tenley Library, efforts to redevelop the site on the corner of 24th and L Streets, NW have still faced traditional District-neighbor conflicts. A year ago, the DC Council passed "emergency legislation" to sell the site to EastBanc Inc., only to rescind it at the opposition of the community. Foggy Bottom, West End, and Dupont Circle ANCs, community groups, residents, and business representatives have since taken the reigns and held vision sessions, distributed surveys, and conducted studies of who uses the library, how the catalogue can be improved, and what amenities should be included in the branch's redevelopment.

West End Library Friends Stakeholders Committee released their "Guidelines for a New or Fully Renovated Branch Library" mid July. In it, the group calls for a coffee shop with an outside entrance, attractive, well-landscaped grounds and accessible inviting sidewalk space and entrances, office space for local ANCs and community organizations, and an architectural team that is familiar with library design.

Robin Diener, director of the DC Library Renaissance Project, an organization founded by Ralph Nader to improve the DC Public Library system, said the report is consistent with what her organization wants to accomplish on the site. She also stressed that the District should do a better job of including the community in the planning process.

"We think that planning should be dealt with early on by the community and that we should see a more comprehensive planning process. We had our own vision session that was shorter than the Friends of the Library, but still very comprehensive, and then the Office of planning had a meeting in which they read back to us what we had put forward. It was a standard question and answer and they were very generous in answering our questions, but it wasn't much of a program. The second meeting that they hosted was more of the same. There will be two more in September but my impression from what happened is that they will be more of what was already done," she said.

Diener said that under current procedures it seems that the District cares more about which developer is interested in the site, than what the community would like to see. "DC is missing a critical piece of planning that should happen before there are discussions with developers. In DC, what we do is we talk to developers and see who might be interested in the project and then talk to the community, it should be driven the exact opposite way. Now it seems like they (the City) have got an idea, and they're trying to put an idea out there in a way that people can be respond, but that plans have already been determined," she said.

Many of the redevelopment suggestions for the parcel at the corner of 24th and L Streets, NW are related to the large homeless population that congregates in the library. A survey issued to 348 self-selected respondents by the Friends of the Library showed that the homeless population's use of the library is "a deterrent to greater use by other patrons." The report recommends fewer reading tables to deter homeless people from congregating, removing parking meters in front of the building so that bags can not be tied to them, limiting the number of bags each person can bring to the library, and adding stand-up computer-only tables.

In addition to interior and exterior design guidelines, the report calls for a revamped collection that better reflects the demographics of the users. "Those who do use the library are older, wealthier, better educated, and less racially diverse than the general population of the District; and, therefore, the collection, programs, and services for this particular branch, like all branches, should be tailored to the population it serves."

EastBanc developed the Georgetown and West End Ritz-Carltons.


Anonymous said...

What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the drama in West End overshadowed Tenley.


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