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Citizens Question Library Design

Tense community meeting on library design plans ends with promise for consideration of citizen suggestions.

After two hours of heated dialogue, neighbors of McLean’s Dolley Madison Library got what they wanted — the promise of further dialogue.

“It’s obvious that you haven’t had any dialogue with the community center,” said Ingleside Avenue resident Cheryl Patten, addressing Fairfax County staff members handling the expansion and design of Dolley Madison Library at a community meeting last week. “I don’t think we’re prepared to go forward with this major expansion because you don’t have two key pieces of research done. It would be one thing if this library wasn’t next to the community center, but it is.”

Patten, who has lived on Ingleside Avenue for 30 years, is one of several residents neighboring Dolley Madison Library and the McLean Community Center who is unhappy with the proposed expansion of both facilities — particularly because the two projects are being executed completely independent of one another.

“This whole study was done in a vacuum,” said Patten.

Originally built in 1967, McLean’s community library has been slated for major overhaul for many years. In 2004, 70 percent of Dranesville District residents voted in favor of a library bond referendum that would allocate funds for the renovation and expansion of Dolley Madison Library. The new and improved library will include more public access computers with reliable and updated infrastructure, wireless network access, updated furniture, increased seating, a larger children’s area, a larger community room, a security gate, an additional conference room, a “Quiet Study Room,” a “Group Study Room,” upgrade handicap accessible restroom facilities and more adequate workspace for library staff and volunteers.

Construction on the new library was originally scheduled to start this summer, with an estimated completion in spring of 2009. However, citizen objections to the proposed design and a postponed public hearing on moving the Dranesville District Supervisor’s office from its current location on Balls Hill Road to the new facility have delayed the original schedule by approximately eight months. Fairfax County staff members have expressed concern over further delay.

“The longer we take to act and start construction, the more value that is being lost on the funds we have,” said Katayoon Shaya, project manager in the Building and Design branch of the Fairfax County Planning and Design division. “The longer we take to do this, the more expensive it’s becoming and the less value we are getting for our money.”

However, Patten and her neighbors contend that the county should have thought of this earlier and come to the community for design input much sooner.

“And I guess I figure that if this library is going to be here for 50 years, eight months isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things,” said Patten.

NEIGHBORS of the library are not the only ones who are dissatisfied with the current building design proposal. Members of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee studied and analyzed the proposed design plans and concluded that it falls short in terms of preserving trees and the employment of progressive storm water management tactics.

“It is, at the very best, OK compared to what we’ve got now,” said Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee member Charles Willmott. “It’s a step in the right direction, but we need to be looking at all the possibilities for how we improve the management of Dead Run … we’re not getting any progress.”

Willmott and other members of the Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee maintain that a few minor modifications in the proposed layout of the library’s parking lot, combined with the installation of a porous pavement, would save more valuable green space and would be infinitely more effective in managing stream valley degradation caused by storm water runoff. However, Fairfax County staff members argue that the current design proposal is already considered to be a “green” building that employs high-tech underground storm water collection basins and rain gardens to handle this problem. Staff members also say that they have come up with the best possible design that meets county code requirements for parking spaces and suitable emergency vehicle access routes.

“This is an extra tight site sitting in a wooded park,” said Shaya. “No matter which way you go, you are going to affect the trees surrounding it. We don’t go out and seek the public input on design – that’s not how we are set up. It’s not design by committee.”

HOWEVER, THE JULY 10 meeting held at the McLean Government Center did conclude with some promise for those residents who believe the current design can be improved. Fairfax County staff agreed to have further discussion with members of the McLean Citizens Association Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee, Fairfax County Park Authority staff responsible for McLean Central Park and representatives from the McLean Community Center to consider some of the design modifications suggested by the concerned citizens.

McLean resident Ed Pickens, president of Fairfax Field and Streams, emphasized that no one is suggesting that plans for the library renovation be scrapped. Rather, he and other environmentally minded citizens see this as a valuable opportunity to raise the bar.

“We can agree on three things here — one, we want the library to be renovated and improved, two, we want to minimize the number of trees taken down, and three, we want to improve storm water management strategies if possible,” said Pickens. “If we don’t improve storm water management now, when the county has the opportunity to, we are never going to improve it.”