Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Group wants Wheaton Library/Recreation Center complex named for Nelson Mandela (Photos)

A group of residents has suggested to Montgomery County officials that they name the site of the future Wheaton Library and Recreation Center for the late Nelson Mandela. While the library and rec center building would retain the "Wheaton" name, the larger property they will stand on would be named the Nelson Mandela Memorial Complex.

Betesey Katiti and Rosie Engman met with representatives of County Executive Ike Leggett on August 26 to discuss the proposal. The aides to Leggett were Office of Community Partnerships Director Bruce Adams, and Executive Director of the Montgomery County Criminal Justice Commission and former County Council member Mike Subin, they said. Last night, the proposal was brought to the attention of County Department of General Services Director David Dise, at a community meeting to update residents on the project.
New renderings of the
gym at the future
Wheaton Library and
Recreation Center
Dise said that the DGS chairs the advisory committee on the naming of public buildings, and that he would also pass the idea on to Leggett today.

The proponents of the Mandela idea say it would be appropriate because they found the largest ethnic group that utilizes the existing Wheaton library is Ethiopian. In addition to the name of the site, they've proposed raising private funds for a life-size statue of Mandela to be placed at the library, and to have County public school students create artworks based on Mandela and his life for display within the building.

A variety of other issues were discussed at last night's meeting.

Some residents expressed concern at the underground parking garage proposed for the building. "I would not feel safe in an underground parking lot," one parent said. DGS staff said the garage roof will be built higher than usual, will eliminate as many columns as possible for better visibility, and will be painted white. The elevator room to the building above will be glassed-in for safety. There will be no guard on duty, but a gate will prevent access to the garage after hours.

"To the extent that a parking garage can be a pleasant experience, at least make it a safe one," Dise said.

There will be 60 surface spaces, 170 garage spaces, a few short-term spaces near the entrance, and overflow parking will be across Arcola Avenue at the Wheaton Volunteer Fire Department.
A resident asks
a question at last
night's meeting
One attendee brought up the issue of water seepage into the current library. DGS staff said that was due to a design flaw in the masonry of the existing building. While some of that has been reduced by the WMATA Metro tunnel that was blasted beneath the library in the late 1980s - thereby making water WMATA's problem, not the library's to some extent - the new building will be designed to keep out groundwater.

In response to concerns that tires would be among the recycled materials used in the new building, Dise said "we are not backtracking on that," and said DGS is aware of that concern by residents who have indoor air quality concerns.

One resident asked if the hanging sculpture would return in the new library. Yes it will - in the atrium.
MCPL Director
Parker Hamilton
answers a question
County Library Director Parker Hamilton addressed questions regarding the library collection. She said they are still evaluating the size and makeup of the collection. But she said to trust the judgement of those evaluating those questions - their decisions at the new Silver Spring Library resulted in a 107% increase in circulation. "We did something right there," Hamilton said. "We're going to do the same for Wheaton," she vowed.

Many felt the new bookstore space was too small. Dise acknowledged that some corners had to be cut in order to keep the building footprint from crossing into the utility right-of-way that now lies beneath Hermitage Avenue, a street that will be closed at Georgia to make room for the outdoor recreational facilities at the future library/rec center. But shelving will be taller, and the space much nicer. "We do have staff working on trying to duplicate that musty smell," Dise joked.

Several residents said the crossing of Georgia Avenue is currently too dangerous at Arcola. Dise said there is little the County can do to change that, unless the Maryland State Highway Administration agrees to changes. Fencing, berms and landscaping will be utilized to prevent soccer balls from flying out onto Georgia Avenue.

While there is no firm date yet for the closure of the library, it could happen by mid-2016. The new Wheaton Library and Recreation Center building is expected to open in mid-2018.

"Let me tell you, this building is going to be a destination," Dise promised.

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