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Leaning Toward the Old Firehouse

MCI more likely to support expansion of community center at Old Firehouse Teen Center site.

Next week, the members of the McLean Community Center (MCC) Governing Board will meet with Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois to discuss the proposed renovation and expansion of the McLean Community Center facility. They are hoping they will be able to tell her that the majority of the community is supportive of plans to keep all renovations and additions concentrated at the community center’s Old Firehouse Teen Center building in downtown McLean.

The Governing Board first began to look into the possible need for an expansion of the center last fall. The community was surveyed on current and potential programs and offerings at the McLean Community Center via a random phone survey and a written survey mailed to each residential household in the small special tax district that helps to fund the center. The written survey was also available to residents on three computers set up at the center for several months.

IN EARLY 2007, after evaluating the various findings of the surveys, the Governing Board drafted a proposal that presented two potential options for expanding the community center to meet the public’s demands. The first option proposes renovating and rebuilding the Old Firehouse Teen Center to include a 100-seat Black Box theater, a fitness room, meeting rooms and underground parking. The second option proposes to renovate and expand the existing McLean Community Center building on Ingleside Avenue.

In early spring, the Governing Board organized several community public hearings to obtain citizen feedback on the two proposals. The first of those hearings was held at the community center and attracted a sizable crowd — many of whom were neighbors of the center opposed to any further expansion of the main Ingleside Avenue building.

However, there are also residents who have concerns about renovating the Old Firehouse Teen Center. Local historian Carol Herrick attended the second public hearing on the community center expansion project and said that while she understands the Old Firehouse is not technically considered an historical building, it is seen as an important community icon to many residents. Herrick and those residents who share her opinion fear that an extensive expansion project will require the destruction of the original Old Firehouse building. McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Board member Ed Saperstein brought up his concerns on this issue at the June 6 MCA Board of Directors meeting.

“I have a concern about the difference between improving and rebuilding,” said Saperstein. “When we’re thinking of improving the building we aren’t necessarily talking about tearing down the Old Firehouse, are we? Or are they going to tear down the Old Firehouse and add a lot of parking? That concerns me.”

Jan Auerbach, vice-chair of the McLean Community Center Governing Board, said that, at this point, it is too early in the process to be able to comment on exactly how the expansion and renovations will be implemented.

“As we get closer and closer to the point where we can start building, then we’ll start thinking more about exactly how we are going to use the space, and we will be reaching out to the community to see what they want,” said Auerbach. “But we’ve at least given them some idea of what we have in mind.”

At the June 6 McLean Citizens Association Board meeting, a resolution was approved expressing the MCA’s official support of having any community center renovations and expansion take place at the Old Firehouse Teen Center, and not at the Ingleside Avenue site. In addition to the fact that many neighbors of the community center have spoken out against further expansion of the main building, the MCA attributed its support for the Old Firehouse option to several other factors.

Among them was the imminent renovation of Dolley Madison Library – which is adjacent to the community center – which will decrease the amount of open space available for drainage and recreational use around the Ingleside building. In addition, any renovation of the Ingleside Avenue building that would result in giving it a larger footprint would require the new and improved structure to meet Fairfax County building code requirements that were not in place when it was originally built. According to the McLean Community Center Governing Board, meeting these new standards would incur costs of approximately $1 million.

IN ITS RESOLUTION, the McLean Citizens Association also cited results from the community center survey that was mailed out to residents. The majority of teen respondents said they would prefer a renovation of the current Teen Center site over relocation.

At the June 6 meeting, Planning and Zoning Committee chair Dale Murad urged board members not to fixate on the specifics of what may or may not be done at the Old Firehouse site.

“Really, all we’re looking at now is, do we want to have some MCC things downtown?” said Murad. “We’ll let the MPC [McLean Planning Committee] and the MRC [McLean Revitalization Corporation] come up with some choices and we’ll figure out what to do with them then. I think later on, when we have more concrete information, we’ll have better room for debate.”