Housing Complex

Study: Mt. Pleasant Library Design Neither Safe Nor Accessible

Closing time at the Mt. Pleasant LIbrary.

Closing time at the Mt. Pleasant LIbrary.

The Mt. Pleasant Library has been closed for almost two weeks now, while the interim facility on Mt. Pleasant Street races to ready itself for its scheduled re-opening date on April 26. Meanwhile, two local ANCs have been racing to ready reports by independent consultants on the safety and accessibility of the current designs, hoping to influence the final renovation.

ANC 1C’s concerns—as well as those of the Library Renaissance Project—centered around the fire danger posed by building a large addition on the back of the library, and a long ramp that might not comply with ADA regulations. Housing Complex has obtained a copy of ANC 1C’s report, scheduled to be released on Monday, and it confirms their fears. (ANC 1D will release its report on Tuesday.)

The ramp, according to Nichols Design Associates, “cannot be considered an accessible route,” because it’s too steep and too long. But the report goes further:

“DCPL seems to want to take DC residents back to an earlier American culture, where a separate and unequal philosophy prevailed. Their ramp does this by compelling users to traverse an unnecessarily long ramp so they can enter the building through a rear library entrance. Universal designers will be appalled if this project is built—the lack of integration symptomatic with the proposed ramp does not empower anywhere near a similar library entry experience that the able-bodied library patrons have ascending the grand staircase at the front of the building.”

Fire safety is a problem too: The report says that the addition leaves too little room for emergency vehicles to squeeze in between the library and neighboring apartment buildings. It even raises the specter of something on the order of the Deauville apartment fire in 2008, which put 150 families out of a home.

The report makes several recommendations for how the plans might be revised, including having the ramp lead to the front door (as it does now) and shrinking the addition.

At the moment, the library doesn’t have building permits—the DCRA is still reviewing the designs for the same safety and accessibility issues that ANC 1C’s consultants considered. According to DCPL spokesman George Williams, modifications will be made if DCRA deems them necessary during the permitting review process.

A final ANC has weighed in as well—ANC 1A approved a resolution at its meeting on Wednesday night asking DCPL to fully respond to concerns raised by the independent reports. But it wasn’t unanimous. Three out of nine commissioners voted no, including chairman Cliff Valenti.

“I feel like there has been a lot of modification to the original proposal to try and please a vocal minority headed by someone who is paid to oppose the new library,” Valenti wrote to Housing Complex. “I have not heard from hardly anyone on this issue so I can't believe its that controversial.  I believe the stall tactics are costing tax payers money.”

The person “paid to oppose the new library” is Chris Otten, an ANC 1C commissioner who says he receives a salary of less than $15,000 a year as an organizer for the Library Renaissance Project. Otten points to 600 Ward One petition signatures and the support of 15 neighborhood, senior, and disability rights groups.

“I don’t know what [Valenti] expects to hear from his constituents, especially if he’s not reaching out,” says Otten. “Cliff’s way off base here.”

  • andrew

    I dunno, seems odd to me that ANC1C funded a study that makes the exact same points that an ANC1C (Otten) commissioner says on his District Dynamos website.

  • http://www.districtdynamos.org/mount_pleasant/petition Chris O.

    The ANC-1C study speaks for itself and will be available come Monday.

    This report and the comments about my "opposition" to the library just seems wrong. Why would I be opposed to a logical, sane, library plan that allows for welcoming and safe access to all library users?

    I am not opposed to renovating our historic library. In fact, residents have been begging for a renovation for many many years as our library seriously needs one. It's an original Carnegie library built in 1925!

    Plans were on the table in 2006 to do a renovation within the current footprint of the library. Then Ginnie Cooper was hired as the new Chief Librarian. She came from the Brooklyn Library system.

    After a few months being here, suddenly renovation plans were off the table, without any public justification. In 2008, DC Public Library (DCPL) and Chief Cooper came back to the community and said we want to renovate and expand the library.... an expansion no one has asked for.

    Now this expansion is going to make it harder to get into the library for seniors and residents with disabilities, plus will force them to enter the rear of the library. It's not safe at night, not welcoming, and seems a bit unfair given the current accessibility ramp is at the front of the building.

    Do you think that is cool for our grandmas out there, or how about your neighbor with a cane, or perhaps a young mom with a stroller? The ANC was humble and respectfully wrote letters to the library asking for information about the plans... these requests for understanding were ignored or dismissed.

    Whether I was being paid to organize our Ward One neighbors to demand the right library plan, or not, as a Commissioner I would still be asking to oppose the current design plans. They are not logical and expose our City to massive lawsuits, which given our economic forcast, is simply not prudent. I was elected, beyond fear or favor, to make sure the Executive is doing right by our Ward.

    DCPL is not doing right by these library plans... its time to scrap the ramp and expansion, and renovate our library.

    Too many people have weighed in with similar opinions for this not to matter, see >>

    Please feel free to contact me anytime.

    Chris Otten

  • Grandy

    " residents have been begging for a renovation for many many years as our library seriously needs one"

    So stop standing in the way! I feel like I waisted my own good time going to a meeting last year where we came up with a solution and now your trying to organize against that plan?

  • lol

    Isn't it a conflict of interest for an elected official, like an ANC commissioner, to influence, organize and spend ANC dollars in a matter that they get paid to advocate for or involving an organization that they are associated with? Shouldn't they have recused themselves?

  • Chris O.

    There is no conflict of interest in helping to see that Ward One residents get a library project that is the right one, the one they want and have shown in great numbers to want >>

    The ANC, as a whole Commission, hired an independent expert to review the plans... the findings are independent of anyone's view besides that of the expert, and they show DCPL's proposed plans to be bogus.

  • http://www.flickr.com/ Mr. T in DC

    Even if the current plans for renovating the library have flaws, I hope they go ahead with them anyway, just to act as a big brush off to the NIMBY activists in Mt. Pleasant who prefer that no change of any kind over come to their neighborhood. I still can't believe they hired a professional "activist" who goes around posting the same long-winded and misleading comment on every blog entry or news story about the library. Also, how can a ramp be both "too steep" and "too long"? It seems to me that according to basic geometry, a ramp is either short and steep, or long and NOT steep!