Thursday, September 04, 2008
Last night, a group of citizens and parents gathered at St. Ann's Church in Tenleytown to discuss the status of the embattled Janney Elementary/Tenley-Friendship Library redevelopment at the intersection of Wisconsin Ave. and Albemarle St. Neighborhood activists led an hour long presentation that criticized both the DC government and the project's designers, LCOR Inc. In an ironic case of getting what you wish for, the presentation made it clear that the public-private partnership (PPP) that Janney supporters lobbied the Fenty Administration for (and came closer to in July) was now, in their view, the worst possible option.
"Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction," said Sue Hemberger. "Since July 10, Mayor Fenty has broken two promises and told four lies." She went on to detail Janney's gripes with the city in detail. First and foremost, they are taking issue with the city’s selection of a developer for the PPP without the sanction of local supporters. “Mayor Fenty promised he wouldn’t pursue a PPP unless the community approved it…He then selected a proposal that [we] found completely unacceptable.”
The proposal in question is the work of LCOR Inc., who beat out two competing firms, Roadside-Smoot and the See Forever Foundation, for the deal after an RFP for the site was issued last year. Since that time, Janney advocates have taken issue with almost every aspect of their design, which includes construction of a new wing for the school, a brand new Tenley-Friendship Library, as well as an adjacent 8-story apartment complex on the site of the school's soccer field. Janney supporters have voiced discontent over the ceding of their soccer field to the apartment building and the adverse conditions that large scale construction would have on the day-to-day affairs of the school.
“This was probably the worst of the three proposals put forth. We asked [LCOR] to revise it and they refused. So this is what’s on the table,” said Daniel Carozza as he gave a lengthy explanation of the new building’s design flaws. Citing a lack of natural light and open air play space, a smaller in-house library and cafeteria that would be unable to comfortably service Janney’s 550 students, and the adverse conditions pupils would face if they were forced off-campus during construction, he said, “I’m not sure, for the sake of our children, that I could approve of this plan.”
Unfortunately for Janney Elementary, the matter is no longer entirely in their hands. Janney officials and DC Public Schools (DCPS) are not taking part in any discussions with LCOR - DC Public Libraries (DCPL) is the only organization currently holding talks the developer. According to Hemberger, the new library’s design (composed by the Freelon Group) is “fully funded and approved,” except for a review by the DC City Council – a formality undertaken by projects budgeted at over $1 million. “They could be in the ground in 6 weeks,” she said.
That, however, seems unlikely for Janney. Although scheduled on the District’s Master Facilities Plan, if they have their way, the PPP will be abolished and the design process will begin anew. According to Hemberger and Heroza, a non-PPP project - overseen by DCPS - would take only two years, compared to LCOR’s four. As Hemberger said in closing, “This PPP will be lose lose lose.”
The original RFP for the project contemplated using the old library site, on well-trafficed Wisconsin Avenue above the metro station, to build the residential units, integrating the library into the new structure. But local activists protested the process as well as the proposed design specifications that would have left the soccer field intact. For reasons still unclear and contested, the District changed the RFP after it was issued to discourage developers from including housing over the library site, removing it instead onto the school grounds.