Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Silver Spring Civic Center Project on Thin Ice

With a name as wholesome as apple pie, you would think Silver Spring's Civic Building on Veterans Plaza would be as popular as motherhood and holidays. To the contrary, the plan to turn the barren plaza into a civic center building and community plaza has the Silver Spring community up in arms.

The one-acre site at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth will be bisected, leaving half of it to house a 42,000-s.f. civic building and the other half to serve as a community plaza. The civic building will consist of three floors; the main level will hold a 5,000 s.f. "Great Hall" surrounded by scattered meeting spaces. The second floor will be the new home of the Silver Spring Regional Center, an agency that mainly serves as a liaison between the county government and the community; and the lower level will be occupied by the Roundhouse Theatre, which will use the space for offices and classrooms. So far so good.

The other half - not so much. Veterans Plaza is supposed to honor the people of MoCo who served in the military. Plans for the vacant space include a 60 ft. x 105 ft. ice rink, a 7,000-s.f. illuminated translucent overhead pavilion, and landscaped open space (nothing says 'thanks' to our boys overseas better than an ice rink with a hot pink tarp). The main feature, however, is the artwork to be completed by Toby Mendez, which will adorn the footpath that runs along Ellsworth.

A number of people just aren't seeing the point of having an ice-rink, or its accompanying overhead-pavilion - with increased internet chatter even the CIA couldn't miss. Silver Spring blogs have taken the issue to heart, responding derisively, and blogger Jamie Karn seemed to have the most articulate argument (for a blogger): "Veterans Plaza needs to be more democratic than the ice rink will allow it to be. More than 85,000 people of a broad range of incomes, races, and nationalities live within the [area]... interaction in daily and civic activities is the traditional purpose of civic plazas in America, and should be the guiding principle for the design of our plaza." One blogger (we'll keep anonymous) was more succinct, "Ice skating sucks."

"The focus of the civic building is to provide a community center for the Silver Spring area and to serve as what some people call "the living room" of Silver Spring. I think it will become the focal point of downtown, [making] the center of downtown a true community place and not just a commercial place," said Gary Stith, Director of the Silver Spring Regional Center.

Boston-based Machado and Silvetti Associates has been chosen as the design architects, but contractors are still being sought. The project has been open to bids since December 26, though Montgomery County's Office of Procurement may push back the February 6th response date. County officials could not give a reason for the bid-extension, but the implication was that the overall response was a light; just 15 bids were received. Developers, contractors and those generally interested in the project can expect word on Monday, when the county is expected to offer the extension.

"The County is currently taking a look at the number of RFI's and determining if a bid extension is necessary," said Don Scheuerman, Chief Engineer with the Division of Capital Development Building Planning and Design Section. MoCo estimates a start date in March.


Anonymous said...

This project has been hashed, re-hashed and triple hashed so many times it is pathetic.

A year ago, when the county said they were considering not building the ice rink because of budget constraints there was a HUGE outcry of "you promised us an ice rink you better deliver".

Now, another camp comes out of the closet (old news, btw) saying the ice rink is bad, we want grass (a completely impractical idea).

No one will ever be satisfied.

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