Tuesday, April 14, 2015
New Wheaton Library and Recreation Center design unveiled (Photos)
Attendees seemed to give the redesign a warm reception, applauding at the end of the presentation. But concerns about transparency, and the ability for the community to participate in the design phase, remained for some.
As of last night, the project's budget has been trimmed from $89 million to $76 million. Since the details of the building took up the bulk of the presentation (including an animated 3-D flyover/flythrough of the future facility expected to be posted online sometime today), many residents were asking each other afterward what had been trimmed to account for the savings.
In an interview after the meeting, Dise said cost-cutting measures included reducing the footprint of the building and structural changes, both accounting for around $5 million of the cost reduction alone. He said moving the building back from the Hermitage Avenue right-of-way meant underground utilities would not have to be relocated, for example. Switching from a green roof to a "white roof," with plans to add solar panels once the building is finished, was another significant cost savings. A portion of the roof, over the children's library, will still have vegetation. The Gilchrist Center's decision to move into the Wheaton Central Business District, rather than into the new Library/Recreation Center, was an additional cost eliminated. Dise said a full, itemized list of the changes that reduced the cost would be available when DGS presents the project to a County Council committee next week.
The savings did not come at the expense of the library collection, Dise said. Parker Hamilton, Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries said that not only would the number of books remain the same, but that the children's and teen collections would actually increase in size.
All in all, the facility will equal new recreation centers being built in North Potomac and White Oak in size, Montgomery County Recreation Department Director Gabriel Albornoz said.
A Power Point presentation revealed that the library and recreation center will include a Reading Room, a gym on par in size with the largest in the county, an elevated track on the second level above the gym's basketball courts, computer labs, an arts and crafts room, a pottery room, a vendor cafe, a weight room (which Albornoz said will be many times the size of the current weight room), an upper level Social Hall, a children's library, a teen area, a used bookstore on the western side of the building behind the gym, and even a learning kitchen facility.
Outdoor features will include an entry circle for drop offs of patrons or borrowed materials, with handicapped parking in the center, a close distance to the entrance. People entering from either Georgia Avenue or the circle entrance behind the building will be greeted by the same employees at the lobby desk for better security.
A large green space to the north of the building, including what is today part of Hermitage Avenue, will serve as a multipurpose field. While it won't be large enough to serve as a regulation soccer field, it is expected to host many impromptu, pickup soccer matches. One resident said she thought it would be better to use that green space for an indoor soccer field, citing concerns that it would be underutilized in the winter months, and the need for more soccer fields in the community. Albornoz said the indoor gym is so large that it will be possible to play indoor soccer in there. The community had previously sought more green space on the site, which is one reason the large field is planned. Despite county trends toward controversial artificial turf fields, Dise said the field will be natural turf. There will also be playground equipment near the surface parking lot, and walled-in rest areas with seating near Georgia Avenue.
Special angled bay windows on the Georgia Avenue side will redirect the setting sun, while filling the gym with light. Trespa paneling on the facade will allow designers to create a welcoming color scheme, and add texture. The building will step down in height from Georgia Avenue toward the neighboring homes. Designers promise that the facility will "glow from the inside out" at night, one of several measures to meet residents' suggestions for a welcoming, gateway facility.
Bike facilities and circulation through the property have not yet been determined at this stage of planning. For those arriving by car, there will be 178 spaces in an open air garage below the building, and 61 surface spaces. No traffic control is currently planned for the intersection where patrons will turn onto Arcola Avenue.
With the good news out of the way, there is no positive way to say that Wheaton will be without a library for about 20 months. Dise said the design phase will last about another year. Construction could start in July 2016. The facility could then be expected to open in 2018. Part of the length of time being projected, is due to the demolition of the existing library and recreation center (formerly the Wheaton Youth Center), Dise said.
There is a possibility that a temporary, small library facility could be opened in a nearby shopping center or mall, officials said. Community meetings would have to be held in either the new Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad ballroom (where last night's meeting was held), or at the new Wheaton High School, which is projected to be completed by the time construction begins. The current recreation center can't stay open during construction, Dise said, because the contractor will need that space as a staging area.
"Thank you very much, I'm really happy," one resident said at the meeting's conclusion. Among residents who have been engaged with the long and controversial project from the beginning, there were still concerns about openness and community participation, however.
"The whole issue is transparency," said Kim Persaud, President of the Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association. Persaud was recently socked with a $58,407 bill by the County, for a Maryland Public Information Act request she filed to get more information about the behind-the-scenes process. When she learned meetings were being held in Rockville without resident participation in the design planning, Persaud said she told DGS Deputy Director Greg Ossont that residents wanted to be involved. But once Ossont agreed to let her participate in the meetings, Persaud said, no further meetings were scheduled. She then made the MPIA request. "Why can't we know how they're spending our money?" Persaud asked. She said the neighborhood wants to be able to give feedback as various design decisions are being made, not after-the-fact at meetings such as the one last night. "I want to be involved in the design process. Period," she said.
Asked about those community concerns after the meeting, Dise told me the lack of meetings was due to the stalled project. The latest proposal was finally presented to Leggett last Tuesday, Dise said, and the executive gave his approval. Now that DGS has a viable project with Leggett's support, "we'll reconvene the group," he promised. Community leaders, members of the Midcounty Citizens Advisory Board and other participants will have a say in the design process through those meetings, he said.