By suspending discussion and asking the county attorney to intervene, chair Dennis Findley and the McLean Community Center’s Capital Facilities Committee turned a possible happy ending about Center renovation into a family squabble.
“A lot of passion, a lot of late nights, a lot of hard work went into this,” said committee member Laurelie Wallace. “I like what we came up with.”
“We’ve been going at this for quite a number of years,” said member Jay Howell.
McLean Community Center’s $8.1 million modernization project had been over budget, but with a little help from comptroller Ashok Karra, the committee was able to channel $125,000 from the HVAC budget into the construction project and $25,000 more into reserves for the center.
The moves allowed the committee and the community center’s full Governing Board to save the beloved long and narrow community hall meeting room at its meeting two weeks ago.
And last Thursday, Feb. 4, the committee was poised to make its last controversial and critical decision; whether to preserve Maffitt Hall for meeting and programming space, or to turn it into administrative office area.
Construction on the center will take place in 2017 and 2018. Many details are still to be determined.
THE COMMUNITY CENTER’S executive director George Sachs and his staff came up with a plan to preserve the Maffitt Hall for community use, while still increasing administrative space.
“We can make it work. It’s going to be better for everybody,” he said.
Member Lathan Turner submitted his input by letter, after suffering a fall during the blizzard. He reminded the committee of the center’s overall mission:
“The mission of the McLean Community Center is to provide a sense of community by undertaking programs; assisting community organizations; and furnishing facilities for civic, cultural, educational, recreational and social activities apportioned fairly to all residents of Small District 1, Dranesville,” according to the McLean Community Center.
“It’s hard for me to vote against adding more program space,” said Howell.
“You really have made the case for preserving the Maffitt. Maffitt is a quiet place,” said Mark Zetts, a McLean citizen and member of the McLean Citizens Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee, who attended the meeting until he needed to head to the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
Merrily Pierce has been in Maffitt every week since 1991; she called Maffitt a “historic room.”
But staff has been working in cramped quarters, a fact that no one contests.
Votes of the members of the committee appeared possibly deadlocked at three each on whether to use Maffitt as community space or whether to use it as administrative space.
Kohlenberger, who supported the redesign to save Maffitt as community space, could have been the deciding vote.
BUT BEFORE KOHLENBERGER had the chance to speak, Committee member Debbie Sanders asked Kohlenberger, who is president of the Community Center’s Governing Board, to recuse himself from the vote because he is also on the board of the McLean Citizens Association.
At the meeting two weeks ago, two members of the McLean Citizens Association came to the committee’s meeting to advocate for saving the community hall.
Did they come as citizens or MCA Board members, the committee debated?
“McLean Citizens Association has been the most vocal about advocating for one of two opinions,” said Findley.
Two MCA board members came to last week’s meeting; 40 serve on the MCA Board.
“There is a conflict of interest. You’re a member of the board, Paul,” said Findley.
Kohlenberger mentioned numerous community leaders who have served both the MCC and MCA at the same time, including Pamela Danner, Joan DuBois, Gene Durman, Carole Herrick, Maya Huber and Cheryl Bell Patten, he told the committee.
Since February of 2015, Kohlenberger has left McLean Citizens Association meetings temporarily while MCC decisions are discussed.
“I have been 100 percent behind this community center the entire time,” he said during the meeting. “I have recused myself from all MCA decisions.”
But the three voters who wanted to use Maffitt as administrative space continued to claim he shouldn’t be voting.
Member Merrily Pierce tried to restore order when she read verbatim from Robert’s Rules of Order.
“I think I need to tell you, you’re off base,” she said. “This is not a conflict of interest.”
“It seems like the conflict of interest is trying to boot Paul off,” said member Jennifer Rossman, after Pierce read the rules of order.
“I resent the questioning of my honor,” said Kohlenberger.
“When MCC matters have come up that could potentially materially affect the MCA (such as the MCC's marketing support policy for local groups), I have not participated. When MCA matters have come up with an impact on the MCC, I have recused myself and left the room,” he said.
FINDLEY REINED IN the discussion when numerous people started speaking simultaneously.
“Wait, wait, stop,” he said. “I want an opinion of the county attorney.”
After gathering himself, Findley said, “This portion of the meeting is suspended until we hear from the county attorney.”
The project is already behind schedule and it was reported that this additional delay could set back the overall project by a couple of months.
The full MCC Governing Board is scheduled to convene on Feb. 24.
It is not known whether the full Governing Board would have upheld the committee’s decision one way or the other.
Andrea Delvecchio, MCA’s liaison to the MCC Governing Board, said she speaks as a citizen of McLean.
“I would encourage you all to remember that the common interest here is the citizens here that want to use this facility,” she said. “Who takes priority here? The people of McLean who support this facility, or the staff who works here? Who takes priority here?”
THE FEEL-GOOD story does still remain.
McLean Community Center will get the modernization needed after serving the community the last 40 years.
The Center is attempting its best to limit closing of Alden Theatre from April through November.
Other activities will be relocated while construction takes place in 2017 and 2018.
The center’s front facade and back facade will be glass, open and inviting.
There will be additional space for programming and administration.
The rooms will be modernized.
The courtyard will be landscaped.
There will be LED lighting.