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Back in November, we got the gist of what an expert panel would recommend for D.C.’s aging central library: Either build two more floors on top and lease part of the building to another tenant, or sell the building and move the library somewhere else. Today, they released their full report, which makes even more clear that the library just staying in its existing building wasn’t an option—-there’s no way to finance $200 million in needed renovations without private money, and the library just doesn’t need all the space anyway.
So, how to make the other two options work?
The build-on-top-and-lease-out scenario, the Urban Land Institute panel said, would be the “financially most viable” option because new rental revenue from between 165,000 and 182,000 square feet of space would generate between $4.1 and $5.5 million annually. The problem with that option is that it would require the library to rent space elsewhere for a couple years, while the building was under construction.
The other idea—-selling the building and moving elsewhere—-presents the very difficult problem of locating 225,000 square feet in the central business district. The panel identified a handful of potential redevelopment sites, like the not-long-for-this-world FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue, but those are subject to lots of forces beyond D.C.’s control.
What’s the difference in the two options from a librarian’s perspective? Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper says it’s a wash. “It’s almost hard to contrast them, because in the end, I think the result would be the same,” she says. The current facility has probably never achieved its potential as a library, because even though the virtue of Mies van der Rohe‘s design was that it allowed many different configurations within a rigid box, there was never enough money to achieve the optimal one for a library’s purposes.
“It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong for how we need to use our libraries these days,” Cooper says. “Could this place be a really wonderful central library? Maybe. I don’t know the answer to that. We do know that we have the best location possible.”
Meanwhile, some fixes are needed now. Cooper has requested $60 million over the next four years for upgrades to the central library in the fiscal 2013 budget, for things like a new heating system, elevators, and gaskets to insulate windows, which are now starting to break. And Cooper, as well as the panel, think the city should move forward as quickly as possible to decide what to do with the building long term, because in the mean time, the building is just getting more expensive, and less useful.
Here’s the full document:
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