Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Residents concerned about delays, transparency on Wheaton Library/Rec Center construction
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.