Advisory Panel Member Interview: Meg Maguire

MLK Library Modernization Blog

Advisory Panel Member Interview: Meg Maguire

We recently spoke with Meg Maguire, a member of the MLK Library Renovation Advisory Panel and a retired community conservation consultant. She shared her thoughts on the renovation and the potential opportunities and challenges the project presents.

“Potential for a Really Smashing Achievement”

Renovating rather than replacing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is the way to go, according to Meg Maguire.
“With appropriate architectural skills in place to carry out plans of the library staff and community, I think we have the potential for a really smashing achievement,” said Ms. Maguire, who has served on the Advisory Panel since it was formed earlier this year to represent key stakeholders in decisions such as selecting an architecture firm.
Based partly on her eight years of experience chairing a task force that oversaw construction of the new building for the First Congregational United Church of Christ next door to MLK Library.
The building is worth preserving as it is one of few contemporary works of architecture in D.C. with historic landmark status, said Ms. Maguire. And it is D.C.’s only work by one of the 20th Century’s most important architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Renovation may not be the easiest path, but it was the right decision, she said.

A Public-Public Partnership Makes Sense

Ms. Maguire said she supports sharing the space – as well as the renovation and upkeep costs – with another public entity that has a mission similar to the library’s.
“I think people yearn to be lifetime learners,” Ms. Maguire said. “They love places of learning for lectures, for reading and information. MLK Library has the potential to become a community gathering place that inspires creativity.”
Some mission-compatible partners could be the D.C. Archives or a downtown satellite campus of the University of the District of Columbia, she suggested.
“I am for the right mix of public uses that helps build community,” Ms. Maguire said. “That could be magnificent.”

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

However, involving a private developer to create office space or residential housing on floors above the library, in her view, does not make sense.
“The developer’s mission is to make money and the library’s mission is to serve the public,” she said. “These are very different.”
Her project at the First Congregational Church, which now shares space with a high-end office building, was entirely different: The church was a non-profit, private, non-historic building.
“We were facing demolition and total reconstruction,” Ms. Maguire recalled. “We had a worn-out building that neither we nor the D.C. Historic Preservation Office had any interest in renovating. It wasn’t going to create for us a 21st Century home.”

“Many Cooks in the Mix” and Much Uncertainty

In her view, relying on private funding sources could be risky. Ms. Maguire recalled that when the market collapsed in 2008, the church’s three financial partners withdrew, causing huge delays.
Once renovated, the library would face decades of sharing space with a co-tenant, raising new issues, which may or may not be under the library’s control. Like the library, the church is committed to serving everyone’s needs, including vulnerable populations. 
“Initially the developer agreed to allow a meals program on the ground floor,” said Ms. Maguire. “But as things progressed, the developer expected us to control some variables over which we really had no authority: loitering and the potential for homeless people to congregate around the building. That has been an issue with the library historically as well.”
In summary, Ms. Maguire said a private-sector partner could unnecessarily complicate the library renovation. While the church could be relatively nimble in making decisions and dealing with the developer, the library would have “many cooks in the mix” – the D.C. City Council, the Historic Preservation Office, the deputy mayor for economic development and more.
“I think some people may be naïve about what a partnership entails,” she said. “We at the church were very fortunate that so few players were involved. We knew exactly what we wanted and we managed the process to achieve that. Even then, it was not easy.”