The good news from the Board of Library Trustees meeting last night is that all the burned out light bulbs in the lobby of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library have been replaced. Granted, that may be just the minimum performance we expect, but it is still good news.
For one thing, minimum standards for maintenance at MLK have not been met in decades. Under the administration of a new Chief Librarian (who arrived in late July), evidence is starting to trickle in that maintenance not only will be performed, but also reported upon and even documented. Maintenance, as has been widely reported, was the first concern of citizens across the city who attended the library "listening sessions" last winter. They wondered how DCPL’s buildings could have been allowed to fall into such dire disrepair. And they wondered why they should expect things to be any different with the new buildings Mayor Williams and the Trustees are proposing as the basis for library system "transformation."
For another thing, Pamela Stovall, Interim Director of MLK, reported that since the completion of some long overdue housekeeping tasks, "staff is beginning to see possibilities for the Great Hall." Staff of MLK is one of the groups on record as wholly opposing the renovation and preservation of MLK as DC’s central library. It would be nice for them (not to mention for patrons) if, in stewarding the building as should have been done all along, staff came to see "possibilities" in it.
Mayor Williams’ fantasy, "iconic," new central library on the Old Convention Center site is not planned to be finished until 2011, and without a realistic funding plan, never may be. If we renovate MLK, according to the AIA/Urban Design Committee’s 2000 Feasibility Study, we could have a light-filled, asbestos-free, central library inside two years.
One possibility that has recently been envisioned for the Great Hall, although it’s not clear by whom, is the installation of two giant escalators, plunk in the middle. The escalators are called for in the "PSA-Dewberry Cost Benefit Analysis Update," on which Distirict Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi based the September 15 review he prepared for Kathy Patterson, Chair of the Education, Libraries and Recreation Committee.
Back in April, as you may remember, Patterson held two hearings in response to public outcry at the Mayor’s "stealth" attempt to insert authority for leasing MLK into the 2007 budget. What emerged from the hearings was that no "costing-out" of the AIA/Cooper plan had ever been done in spite of strong, continuing interest from a public that keeps bringing the plan back to the table. Patterson, to the great happiness of many who had backed the plan over six years, did the right thing, demanding due diligence, and requesting the CFO provide her a comparative cost analysis between the Mayor’s plan and the AIA/Cooper plan.
(Sigh.) The bad news is that after six years of waiting, and after Patterson’s specific request, the AIA/Cooper plan still has not been costed-out. Whatever the PSA-Dewberry Report is based on, it is not the AIA/Cooper plan, nor indeed is it a plan that has ever been discussed at any Board of Library Trustees meeting. Whoever oversaw this report owes the citizens of the District, and Patterson, an apology — and a report as requested. This one makes a mockery of the public process.
Be on hand to demand an explanation at the third hearing in this matter:
Friday October 27, at 1 pm in room 412 of the Wilson Building. For further details or to present testimony contact Evelyn Bourne-Gould, Legislative Assistant to the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, at 724-8195, or via e-mail at [email protected]