Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Residents concerned about delays, transparency on Wheaton Library/Rec Center construction

Construction of the future Wheaton Library and Recreation Center is severely behind schedule, causing concern among residents and patrons that this could become another Silver Spring Transit Center debacle. Further frustrating those following the construction process are conflicting responses from various Montgomery County offices, and a lack of complete responses, to several Maryland Public Information Act requests.

The replacement library was originally scheduled for delivery in Summer 2018. In May 2017, County Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont stated the project was at that point "about 30 months out" from delivery. That would mean a November 2019 delivery. But in an August 22 email response to a resident MPIA request, DGS Director David Dise promised "all work will be completed in spring 2019," a full 6 months less than his deputy stated. The library would then open in Summer 2019, Dise wrote, making it a year behind schedule.

Residents have also been less than satisfied with their ability to participate in the planning and construction of the building to the degree they expected throughout the life of the project. One of the recent points of contention has been the long-expected public feedback on furniture for the new building.

In his August 22 response to a resident MPIA, Dise wrote, "Public input will soon be sought in selection of some library furniture. DGS will be placing furniture samples and fabrics in the Interim Wheaton Library this fall to solicit public feedback via an online Survey Monkey. Your feedback will help inform us in the selection of library furniture."

But in a July 18 response to an MPIA request from Kimblyn Persaud, President of the Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association, Dise had written that the sample furniture would be displayed this summer, and the County would "carry it through the rest of the year." Feedback gathered from patrons and online forms would be compiled into a report, Dise said, which would "help inform decisions made by County staff" in selecting furniture.

There were even conflicting messages from DGS and the County's Department of Public Libraries as to whether furniture would be tested in Wheaton, or if residents would instead be forced to trek to Rockville.

Yet, according to Jeffrey Bourne, Chief of the Division of Facilities & Capital Programs at the Montgomery County Recreation Department, in a mid-June email to Persaud, "The furnishings, fixtures, & equipment for the building were selected as a part of the design process and reflected on the furniture layout drawings. We already know what these tables & chairs will be and how many but have not ordered anything as yet." A January 2017 on-site meeting at an Owings Mills furniture showroom involving up to 8 or more County employees was held, but no minutes were taken at the meeting, Bourne wrote.

Beyond the conflicting responses on when furniture will be tested, and whether or not the public input is actually going to determine which furniture is purchased, residents have not received legal and complete responses to some of their MPIA requests. For example, in her July MPIA request in regard to furniture selection, Persaud specifically requested "a copy of all documents pertaining to how you are collecting and measuring the pilot test data (survey, phone interview, in person interview), will you be using a 3rd party to collect, analyze and report out results?  If yes, who have you contracted out to do this?  If not, what research methodology will you be using?  How many unique participants are you testing across categories (patrons, staff, DGS)? And will you be getting a cross sample of respondents by age, gender, income, where they live, other demographic categories? When will data collection begin and what is the duration? Will the public be notified of the opportunity to participate in this process?"

But, instead of supplying the copies of the actual documents requested, Dise wrote his own response. According to the MPIA, new documents cannot be created in lieu of providing the documents requested.  MPIAs have been problematic from the beginning of the project, with Persaud infamously being charged a ridiculous $58,407 by the County for a 2015 document request.      

Library projects in general seem to be a weak spot for the County at the moment. In addition to the Wheaton Library being far behind schedule, "refreshes" of the Little Falls and Davis libraries took many months longer than forecast. Mysteriously, both the Little Falls and Twinbrook libraries developed major plumbing problems during or after their renovations. A resulting flood caused major damage at Little Falls. And after spending $1 million, and closing the Twinbrook Library for six months, the County will close it again from September 2-6 to repair the aforementioned major plumbing problems.                                                              

13 comments:

  1. I believe part of your confusion, Robert, is that the building's completion and the library actually opening are entirely separate events on two completely different timelines.

    For the Silver Spring library, I believe it was a roughly 6-8 month gap between the construction finishing and the library opening. It takes a substantial amount of time for MCPL to finish out an actual library within a completed structure. In Wheaton's case, you have an even wonkier schedule w/Dep of Rec running their own timeline for completion of buildout for the recreation half of the structure.

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    1. 1:07: I'm not "confused." The Wheaton Library was originally scheduled to open in Summer 2018. It will now be at least a full year later. And according to Mr. Dise, work will be completed by the end of Spring 2019, and the library would open in Summer 2019.

      So there is confusing information from the County government as outlined above, but I want to clarify that I am not confused, nor the source of the confusion.

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  2. The Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association did a disservice when they worked to prevent the library from being built near the public transit center as recommended.

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    1. I couldn't agree more. Having the library in the triangle along with the Park and Planning building would've much more sense. The lack of parking argument doesn't hold up, because they could've easily provided enough parking to accommodate both buildings. Also by placing it in the triangle it would have been more accessible to walkers from the metro, and all of the apartment building that have gone up near the metro.

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    2. Having the library in the triangle makes no sense. Majority of people who use the library drive in. According to Montgomery County officials, there's not enough parking for Park and Planning, permiting and code enforcement employees as it is. The County is hoping they're willing to use the Metro, bus, walk or ride their bikes. County employees riding their bikes down Georgia and University will be a sight to see.

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    3. People drive because the Arcola location is poorly accessible by public transit. That discourages people who don't have cars from using the library. If the library were in the triangle, more people could access it by Metrorail, Metrobus (Y, C, and Q lines), multiple Ride-On lines, on foot, as well as by car.

      Accessibility is a core value of libraries. Carla Hayden, President Obama's appointee as Librarian of Congress, wrote "At a time when our public is challenged on multiple fronts, we need to recommit ourselves to the ideal of providing equal access to everyone, anywhere, anytime, and in any format... By finally embracing equity of access we will be affirming our core values, recognizing realities, and assuring our future."

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    4. The Wheaton Library is accessible. It's the 3rd busiest Library in the system, with buses stopping right in front of the library. People who have cars, drive because they're multitasking or they're seniors who prefer to drive to the library, which is why free parking was important. But really your argument is irrelevant. The Wheaton community fought hard to keep the Library right where it is and it's not going anywhere else.

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    5. Mike Smith in WheatonSeptember 5, 2017 at 10:48 AM

      Much of the Wheaton community fought to put the library in the triangle; neighborhoods north of Wheaton near the existing site fought to keep it where it was. It is amazing that after being shown such favoritism by the County to the detriment of everyone else, some Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association members are now ranting and raving to the County about furniture.

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    6. Not sure what world you're living in, but the majority of people who fought to move the library, were County employees. You may need to re-read article, it's about transparency and accountability. Perhaps, if you weren't living in the past, you would be able to focus your energy on something positive. With our property taxes going up, County Council and their raises and the fact that we're footing the bill for the Silver Spring Transit debacle. MoCo taxpayers should be asking how our money is being spent.

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  3. Why are people seeking to provide input on library furniture?

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    1. 9:19: Probably because they're going to have to use it for many years to come.

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    2. Why wouldn't we? We're paying for it.

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  4. can we talk about disservice! Disservice is forcing people to pay for parking to use a library. It's obvious you're not aware but the Wheaton Library is the 3rd busiest Library, with most driving in. You must not live around here, but disservice is having to deal with that bottle neck at Reedie Dr. with everyone trying to get into Costco.

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