Posts about Libraries
"Please empty your pockets and put all of your electronic devices on the bin," DC Library Police officers used to tell every patron entering the revolving doors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The days of passing through a metal detector at the city's central library are long gone.
Under the tenure of Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, the library has modernized the 1st floor's Great Hall (originally Peterson Hall) and is creating a "Digital Commons Technology Space."
The library police also have a new perch that resembles a judge's bench. The desk follows the same 1970's style as the original circulation desk, just around the corner.
"Welcome to MLK Library. May I help you?" is now the refrain greeting patrons at the library.
Bike lanes, parks in NoMA and around the city, streetcars, libraries 7 days a week, new trash cans for free, school modernizations, and many more programs get funding under the operating and capital budgets Mayor Gray is unveiling this morning.
Streetcars: In the 6-year capital plan, streetcars get $400 million, which should fund completing the first line from Minnesota Avenue to Georgetown, engineering the Anacostia line, and studies for north-south lines such as Georgia Avenue.
The operating budget contains $6.2 million to start running the streetcar, which Gray continues to promise will roll by the end of the calendar year.
Bike infrastructure: There is a pot of $10.7 million for bike lanes and trails, which appears to be entirely new; formerly, there was no dedicated local bike money. The budget staff have promised to follow up to confirm this. Another $5.1 million will go to "bike-friendly streetscapes," which will be interesting to see in more detail.
Capital Bikeshare: The mayor is funding 10 more Capital Bikeshare stations beyond the ones that area already supposed to be going in. In December, DDOT announced 78 locations, of which it had funding for 54 and was going to install those by March. Unfortunately, it's late in installing most of those. That list also identified 24 future locations, so this budget funds 10.
Buses: The budget office's presentation did not discuss the Circulator or other bus projects. I will follow up to find out whether any Circulator expansion in that master plan have funding. Streetcars are important, but they are one of several modes we need, and for many neighborhoods, better bus service is the better way to help people get around.
Bridges: The South Capitol "racetrack" project and new Frederick Douglass Bridge gets $622.5 million, which would fully fund the project.
Taxes: The budget imposes no new taxes or fees, maintains DC's fund balance, and keeps the debt cap at 12%. The administration also wants to get rid of the tax on out-of-state bonds, which they say primarily impacts seniors and is far and away the biggest complaint they get about taxes. Gray chief of staff Chris Murphy said they "always felt it was ill-conceived."
Affordable housing: As promised, the administration is putting a one-time $100 million into affordable housing. $86.9 million goes into the Housing Production Trust Fund, ($20M in FY 2014 and the rest in FY 2013). The rest, $13.1 million, goes to other smaller initiatives that the recent Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force recommended. He is also promising to keep the 15% of the Deed Recordation and Transfer Tax, which is supposed to go to the HPTF, in there; previous budgets raided that to fund other programs.
Parks: The capital budget provides $50 million for parks (likely a few different small parks) in NoMA: $25 million to acquire land, and $25 million for development. DC made a mistake when it upzoned NoMA without any plan for parks, which is why this is going to be expensive. However, NoMA is generating a lot of tax revenue.
Other parks capital spending includes $20 million fro the Fort Dupont ice arena, $26.4 million for Barry Farm, $2M to renovate and improve athletic fields and parks, $18M for the Southeast tennis & learning center, and funding to modernize 32 play spaces in 8 wards including Fort Greble, Palisades, Macomb, and Takoma which will start in April as well as already-underway work at Noyes, Raymond, and Rosedale.
Libraries: Gray is expanding funding for DC Public Libraries so that every library can be open 7 days a week. Most will be open until 9 pm Monday to Thursday as well as afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. They also get $2 million for books and e-books.
Further, the budget provides $103 million to renovate and, as part of a public-private partnership, expand the MLK Library. There is $15.2 million to renovate the Cleveland Park library, $21.7 for the Palisades library, and $4.8 million for Woodridge's library.
Trash: Residents who want to replace their trash cans are in luck: the administration wants to replace everyone's trash cans over 5 years, for free. If there is money available, they also hope to let people replace stolen or damaged cans without the fee residents have to pay today.
Flooding: Bloomingdale residents hopefully will see some relief from their flooding problems with $1.5 million in the budget to pay for recommendations from the task force studying those problems.
Police and fire: The public safety budget pays for 4,000 sworn officers, replacing police and fire vehicles, cadet training programs and maintaining domestic violence programs that are seeing federal cuts. In general, the budget officials say, they are replacing all federal from sequestration across the board, even assuming sequestration will continue throughout the year.
Raises: DC employees will get their first pay raise in 4-7 years, spanning both union and non-union employees, and DC will fully fund its pension obligations.
We'll have more analysis and further details in upcoming posts.
Scandal rocks Draft Wells campaign: The nascent campaign to draft Tommy Wells for mayor in 2014 has been suspended amid new allegations that under Wells' oversight, DC Public Libraries has been blatantly allowing people to use its books for free. The US Attorney is probing similar conduct at the Department of Parks and Recreation. (City Paper, Todd)
Evans eyes Georgetown for Redskins: A new plan from Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown would demolish Georgetown's campus and move it to Hill East. The current campus would become a practice facility for the Redskins. Some Georgetown neighbors immediately endorsed the plan, because the new facility will create almost no noise and attract very few people to the area. (Post)
Pedestrian safety solved: A new policy from the Montgomery County DOT will make it illegal to cross any arterial streets in the county, eliminating dangerous crossings. People without cars needing to traverse a roadway can get on a bus and ride it to the end of the line and back again. (Gazette, Ben Ross)
Escalator reliability reaches 100%: Metro has achieved a new milestone for escalator maintenance. They have now reached a reliability rate of 100%; all escalators are currently broken at the same time. (Examiner, Matt Johnson)
Hop on I-395 PE: With Virginia's new program to sell naming rights to roads, Sudafed has proposed sponsoring all of Northern Virginia's congestion. (WBJ, Steve Offutt)
LOV-0 coming to a road near you: Google is reportedly working on a new program to design "passengerless cars," which will transport no people at all. In anticipation of this breakthrough, VDOT announced a plan to implement "Low-Occupancy Vehicle" lanes for their exclusive use. (Wired, Neil Flanagan)
DC4D4Thomas: DC for Democracy has endorsed Harry Thomas, Jr. as a write-in candidate for the Ward 5 special election. Members cited Thomas' consistency in talking about revitalizing the ward's main streets without making anything happen, creatively moving around money dedicated to serve youth, and his plan to solve transportation problems by setting up a series of Audi dealerships. (Geoff Hatchard)
Norton targets Wyoming: After several unsuccessful efforts to lobby state legislatures to support DC statehood, Eleanor Holmes Norton announced a new strategy to try to remove statehood from Wyoming, as it is smaller than DC. (DCist, Nick Clark)
Closed for the better part of last year, the Historical Society of Washington, DC at the Carnegie Library plans to return to its regular hours in the spring. The organization is getting back on its feet and held an open house this morning to spread the word.
Last fall, Events DC, the city's convention and sports authority, and the Historical Society reached an agreement on a lease amendment. According to the terms, the HSW will transfer 80% of the Carnegie Library to Events DC, which in turn will develop new uses for the space, including a visitor center.
In exchange, Events DC will operate and maintain the 110-year-old building, with HSW as a tenant. This reorganization allows the Society to singularly direct its resources on core operations and programs.
Additionally, the Kiplinger family, long-time HSW benefactors, donated more than 4,000 prints, photographs, paintings, documents, and DC historical ephemera last month.
With Kiplinger collection, HSW's holdings documenting local history are now comparable to those in the DC Public Library's Washingtoniana Division and Peabody Room, and in the Library of Congress. Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, George Washington University, recent recipient of the collection of Albert Small, National Archives, and DC Archives also contain material pertinent to city history.
"We have always sought to have our collection seen, enjoyed, and used by everyone from scholarly researchers to the general public," said Knight Kiplinger, editor in chief and chairman of the Kiplinger organization. "The Historical Society of Washington, with its large exhibition galleries in the grand Carnegie Library building on Mount Vernon Square, will be an ideal repository for our pieces."
Jerry A. McCoy, a special collections librarian for the DC Public Library's Washingtoniana Division and Peabody Room, is pleased to see the library reopening. "It is important for researchers to have access to the resources that the Historical Society holds, and as a long-time member I am elated to see them back in business," McCoy said.
"Historical Society leaders, members, and volunteer friends will celebrate Dr. King's memory by committing themselves to a Day of Service providing the Washington community with opportunities to learn more about the Society's collections and how to use them to explore their own personal stories," said Julie Koczela, chair of HSW's Bboard of Trustees.
According to Koczela, the Kiplinger collection is currently in crates in the east gallery. Once cataloged, the collection will join the more than 100,000 pieces already in HSW's collection.
Last night, the DC Zoning Commission considered the proposed new West End Library and fire station development project. Despite broad support in the community, some activists now object to the plan because it doesn't contain as much affordable housing as hoped. But residents and the Zoning Commission should support this important project.
The project will rebuild the outdated West End Library and nearby fire station at no cost to the DC government, using the air rights of the public parcels combined with some private land. The new library will provide benefits to the community, including a café and public meeting spaces.
Retail and housing will fill out the block and help make the place a lively place to walk. In all, about 164 residential units will be built above a new library, and a new fire station will be built with housing above.
There is no government budget to replace these obsolete public facilities. If this mixed-use project doesn't move forward, there will be no new library and no new fire station. The decrepit buildings and parking lots will stay as they are.
In its Planned Unit Development (PUD) application, the developer has asked for an exception from Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) on the library site (but not the fire station site), along with several other exceptions which often happen in PUDs. IZ requires offering 8% of housing units to households earning 80% Area Median Income (AMI) or less.
The developer, Eastbanc, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) claim that the entire value of the development rights are being used to pay for the new library and fire station, and there's no additional subsidy left over for the IZ units on the library site or more affordable units on the fire station site.
Originally, the District had promised 52 affordable housing units for very low income households (at 60% AMI) above the fire station site, but DMPED doesn't appear to be offering the needed additional subsidy for this component.
This is a big disappointment. We would prefer to see the District provide the financing to create the 52 very affordable units above the fire station. That would be far more beneficial than simply following IZ. At this point, unfortunately, the proposal is to give the library development with the 164 units above an IZ waiver, and to build housing above the new fire station, including the IZ units required for that fire station parcel alone.
The question of how to deal with the shrinking footprint of affordable housing in this complicated public-private development deal is a hot topic. Chris Otten, an organizer with the DC Library Renaissance Project, sent an alert asking people to attend tonight's hearing and oppose the project because of the affordable housing exception request.
We think this is short-sighted, and dismisses the value of the new library and fire station as major public benefits. A good compromise would be to move the IZ units to the fire station site, if DMPED does not come through with the financing for the preferable 100% affordable project above the fire station.
The PUD process does allow for outstanding public benefits, like a new library, to enable relief from IZ standards. The DC Office of Planning has accepted this, calling the new library and fire station exceptional amenities that fulfill the PUD's standard for allowing relief to some zoning requirements. We think it's possible that IZ could be part of a feasible project at the fire station site, if the Zoning Commission presses for it.
Some DC activists are fundamentally opposed to public-private partnerships, which leverage private development to help pay for public benefits. We share the concern that the public land valuation process should be more transparent so we can ensure city residents are getting a good deal. But better utilizing scarce land with great public facilities, new housing, and commercial space should also be recognized for the benefit that it is.
DC lost the opportunity to build mixed-use libraries at Benning Road and Tenleytown, both of which offered affordable housing and other amenities. These projects would have used funds budgeted for renewed public facilities and private development rights. In the West End case, where there's no budget to fix the library, the public benefits couldn't be clearer. If we do not advance this mixed-use project, we keep the obsolete library and fire station and wait for the city to find the money to pay to replace them one day.
We also lose the benefits a mixed-use building offers: a café connected to the library and separate community meeting space that can be used outside of library hours. These features were sought by residents discussing other library projects, but were unrealized as all other libraries were rebuilt as single-use, stand-alone buildings. A mixed-use building also better utilizes precious city space with hundreds of new homes and shops, within walking distance of downtown.
This is the essence of the notion of public land for public good. Rather than building a small replacement library on a city-owned plot, let's take full advantage of the site and add housing (especially affordable housing), a café, and other community amenities. On future public land deals, the Gray Administration should continue to ensure that the full value of a city-owned site is used We have an important opportunity to create a state-of-the-art public library and fire station, save the city tens of millions of dollars, and deliver added benefits through an innovative mixed-use building design. That's why we should support this innovative project. For more, read my testimony to the Zoning Commission in support of the project.
We have an important opportunity to create a state-of-the-art public library and fire station, save the city tens of millions of dollars, and deliver added benefits through an innovative mixed-use building design. That's why we should support this innovative project. For more, read my testimony to the Zoning Commission in support of the project.
The often maligned Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library may move to a new building at a different location. A panel of developers and planners associated with the Urban Land Institute could make that recommendation later this month.
"It's important to note that the panel will not address the need for a central library," Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper said. She continued, "the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will continue to exist and be located downtown." Instead, the five-day advisory panel will discuss the ideal location for a downtown central library.
According to the DC Public Library (DCPL), "national research suggests that a central library should be about 225,000 - 250,000 square feet." At 400,000 square feet there is a desire to either downsize MLK, the only city library open on Sundays, or construct a smaller future central library. The panel will discuss "potential uses of and development around" the MLK library, and conduct interviews with library users and community leaders.
An anchor of downtown since its opening in August 1972, the library was the city's first public memorial to the slain civil rights leader. Momentum to build a new central library began during the second mayoral administration of Anthony Williams. Released in November 2006, a report by the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Task Force recommended an overhaul of the neighborhood branches and the replacement of "the current functionally obsolete central library."
With a price tag of nearly $300 million, President Bush proposed $30 million in federal funds for a new downtown library. The current site of CenterCity DC was discussed as the most logic location. However, Williams' administration was unable to push a proposal through the DC Council.
The DCPL Board of Trustees first mentioned the ULI panel at their meeting last month. When a smattering of questions arose about the intent of the panel, and whether the library's name honoring MLK was safe, it was clarified that no matter where the central library is located, it will retain Martin Luther King Jr.'s name, and continue to be a memorial to him.
Problems at the library
Since Cooper arrived in August 2006, MLK Library has undergone important functional and cosmetic upgrades making the building more inviting. The public bathrooms are no longer dungeons, the Black Studies and Children's Divisions have been refurbished, and a metal detector no longer greets visitors upon entry. The Adaptive Services Division, helping the deaf community, visually impaired, older adults, veterans and injured service people, received updated technology, the light plane of the ceiling of the Great Hall was revamped to better illuminate the cavernous lobby, and in 2009 a new room opened for teens.
However, MLK Library is still perceived as a homeless shelter and nicknamed "MLK Mission." The pervasiveness of the homeless and those with mental health issues obscure the library's vast collections and resources, according to members of the library staff.
The homeless are supported by a network of social service agencies such as the United Planning Organization. In the morning and evening, buses to and from homeless shelters use the front entrance of the library as a drop-off and pick-up point. G Place NW, behind the library, was the location point until the Secret Service objected.
Future of MLK Library
"The design of the building, while iconic as architecture, has failed to create the type of loved, dynamic and heavily used central library that would best serve the city," says Terry Lynch, a community activist who served on Mayor Williams' Blue Ribbon Task Force on libraries. "It is past time for a state of the art, new central library and conversion of this building to a more appropriate, adaptive reuse."
Over the next year MLK's first floor will be undergoing significant changes. A solicitation for proposals to "complete the interior improvements to the Business Science and Technology Reading Room and the Great Hall" closed two months ago. Construction is planned to be completed by August 2012.
Robin Diener with the Library Renaissance Project says citizens have advocated for a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK since the Williams Administration. Diener says, "In our view, the information gathered by a ULI panel could be a very useful contribution to the complete picture, but it should be presented to a task force of library users from around the city that Mayor Vincent Gray should appoint."
The ULI panel will present their finding and recommendations November 18th, 9 am to 11 am at MLK Library. The public is invited and encouraged to participate.
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