Community Comments from July 23 Meeting

Community Comments from July 23 Meeting

Summary of Southeast Library Community Meeting, July 23, 2020

In Attendance

Over 40 community members attended the meeting.

Speakers – Richard Reyes-Gavilan (Director DC Library), Chuck Wray (Architect, Quinn/Evans) and Jeffrey Hoover (Architect, Tappe Architects) 

Opening Introduction and Slideshow

Richard Reyes-Gavilan greeted everyone attending the third community meeting about the renovation of the Southeast Library. He introduced the speakers and staff before handing the discussion over to architects Chuck Wray and Jeffrey Hoover.

Jeffrey Hoover discussed the robust community engagement program including meetings and surveys. The graphs on the slides showed how members of the community used the existing facility and showed what they would like to be able to do with the renovated facility. 

Chuck Wray explained the work completed to date in preparing for the design phase. This included explaining both the in-depth site analysis, building analysis, and zoning analysis completed by the construction team. 

The closing of the presentation included the project timeline. At this point, the project is moving into the concepts and regulatory phase.

Questions and Comments

There is a right-of-way to the east midway on the left edge of the library building. The right-of-way connects to the alley behind the houses on D st. SE.

How will you make the library building bigger?

We’re going to make the existing ground floor ceiling height taller.  Then we’re going to add another floor below that and we hope to expand that lower level horizontally in a way that creates some compelling space.

The problem of people experiencing homelessness has been raised a few times. Has anyone considered that those filling out these surveys are not those who are experiencing homelessness? Have we gotten those people’s views directly?

The library’s coffee and conversation events allowed us to talk one-on-one with members of the library community who are experiencing homelessness and gave them the opportunity to offer their insights and perspectives.  Also, the library staff was committed to making sure that patrons experiencing homelessness were given paper copies of the survey and when the survey was completed, the staff ensured the completed surveys were delivered to the community engagement team. 

We want all of our libraries to be open to all residents at whatever stage they are in their lives. We want library spaces that make people feel dignified and where people can feel productive. There is a universality in our library designs that speak to everybody’s needs. 

How will DC Public Library provide services to the Southeast Library community when our building is under construction?

We are concentrating on the services that we deliver and finding appropriate alternate locations that can support these services. It may not look like a traditional interim library, but services will continue in the immediate area of the Southeast Neighborhood Library building. 

As the covid emergency continues, and if phase 2 is extended, will there be a reevaluation of library services to include services at Southeast Library, which isn’t currently slated for reopening until late phase 3?

We currently have 14 libraries open with very limited access. There are additional significant constraints in some of our smallest libraries, like Southeast, that prevent us from opening them at this time. It is our goal to open all of our libraries as soon as possible but safety has to be our first priority. Because this pandemic has been so unpredictable it would not be prudent of me to make any promises on when and how our libraries will reopen. We want to stress that we are grateful for the patience of the community as we continue to think through this impossible time.

What is the approach you will be taking to expand the library? Will you expand into the alleyway or other spaces above ground?

There is consideration of building a small addition to the west of the library into the alley - we need to provide a reasonable means for safe exits from all three floors of the building. We realize that any addition to the back will require Board of Zoning adjustments approvals and will need for us to work closely with the community. We are looking at the largest part of the expansion being underground. Other above ground expansions are probably unavailable to us given that we are dealing with the historic public space corridors along South Carolina Avenue and D Street originally planned by L’enfant.

Will you be asking for an exception to the Historic Preservation Guidelines?

I don’t see the need for one. Everything we are discussing is consistent with the Secretary of Interiors Guideline. We recognize the historic significance of this building, and we are committed to respecting that as much as possible.

Many of the survey results we saw today focus on the need for individual space in the library which often requires quiet areas. How will you balance those needs with the need for space to be used for children and the community?

The vertical expansion of the building gives us unique opportunities to create acoustic buffers between really active places in the library and quiet places. 

Given everyone’s increased use of virtual meetings and remote learning, how does that affect what the library will be like?

While we are super fortunate to be able to conduct virtual meetings, nothing will replace the desire for people to seek out these great anchor institutions, like libraries, and commune there.  I don’t think the current health pandemic is going to influence our design process of a building that won’t even come ‘on-line’ for at least another 3 years.

Have you considered geothermal potential for the Southeast Library building?

We have not gotten to that level of assessment yet. We are just beginning to delve into possible mechanical systems. We are pushing the limits of sustainability while balancing the project’s budgetary constraints.

When will the next community meeting take place and what will be the focus of that meeting?

We have a meeting scheduled for later this summer or fall. At that point, working with DC Public Library and consulting with the regulatory agencies, we will have developed concept designs that we will want to share with the community.

Looking at the project timeline, can you explain how the design process continues beyond the regulatory approval phase? 

We would be ill advised to take a final design to the regulatory agencies and ask for their approval since whatever we might show them is likely to need significant adjustments to accommodate the feedback. The informed process that we have developed is to complete about 25% of the project’s design so that we have enough of a design to represent to the agencies the scope, scale and character of the building. We then take the feedback from the various organizations and agencies and finalize the design and construction drawings. This process shortens the time and  allows us to begin construction as indicated on the schedule. 

Will this be a mixed use structure with retail and residential space?

The library is in favor of mixed use projects, but in the case of Southeast, that approach is not being considered. Southeast is a small facility on a constrained lot. Giving up any space for use other than library use would mean we could not provide in this facility the programming needed by the community.

When will the new Southwest Library open?

We are on target for opening the new 20,000 sq.ft. library early next year, 2021.

The newly built entrance to the Northeast Library abuts the house next door. Can you avoid that with the Southeast Library?

Yes, we are trying to avoid that at all costs. Some of our initial ideas are very much informed by not interrupting the historic viewshed along South Carolina Avenue and the berm.

Many of the past conversations included shrinking the already small number of books to allow for more technology or other collaborative features. Is there any sense whether this will be the case?

We strive to keep the collection size roughly the same. I don’t anticipate there being a great deviation with Southeast. With each project I like to talk about opportunity costs: what do we have to give up in order to have something else? We will decide collaboratively the trade offs we’re willing to make.