Rally to Protect Benning Library POSTPONED to Nov 4

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 4, from 1 to 4 pm
Benning Library, 3935 Benning Rd, NE

The Library Committee of ANC 7A-06 has planned this event to rally community support for re-opening or rebuilding their neighborhood library as the stand-alone, purpose-dedicated building they were promised nearly two years ago when it was closed. Residents recently learned that the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, with funding from the DC Department of Housing, had begun a study of the feasibility of putting housing over the Benning Library. Residents have already collected 1,000 signatures on their petition opposing such development over the library.

Ralliers on Saturday can add their names to the petition, participate in a survey to make their thoughts known about the disposition of the Benning branch, and have their library reminiscences recorded. In addition to hearing from invited speakers, rally activities will include sidewalk chalking, poster painting, and a parade.

The Rally to Protect Benning Library is sponsored by the Friends of the Benning Library, the DC Library Renaissance Project, and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7A-06, Eddie Rhodes, Commissioner. Support from other groups is welcome.

Contact Robin Diener at 202/387-8030 or [email protected]

The Commissioner Bats a Thousand

Edward Rhodes, ANC Commissioner for 7A-06, and his redoubtable crew of library patrons have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on their petition against building affordable housing atop a new Benning Library. The feasibility of such development is now under study by the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, for the plum fee of $625,000, I might add.

Eddie (everyone calls him that) said he had surveyed many residents of Ward 7 who were opposed. "Out of a thousand, I could only find five people who were in favor," he announced at the last of a series of three design sessions held by Marshall Heights about the proposed library-with-housing.

Attendees in favor of the proposal at the session were skeptical about the Commissioner’s findings, but Mr. Rhodes is a standup guy. I was with his signature collectors at the Benning area Safeway last Saturday. They are well versed in the formalities. I observed one woman remind a gray-haired gentleman that he’d already signed last week. She gently chided that she couldn’t allow him to get her in trouble for signing twice. Very neighborly and very correct.

The District’s new Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper had told residents at an earlier ANC meeting of Mr. Rhodes’ that if they organized, they would probably stop the proposal from going forward. Trouble is, the Benning Library is already down for the count, and has been for almost two years, with no action towards resuscitation by DCPL.

This proposal has come at the community from out of left field. Housing was never mentioned during public planning sessions that were held in 2004 prior to closing Benning for rebuilding. But will rejecting it now mean Benning residents won’t get the library they were promised two years ago?

Commissioner Eddie’s troops say they won’t stop until they get 4,000 signatures. I don’t doubt they’ll get what they want.

The Lights Are On but …

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]