Study: Mt. Pleasant Library Design Neither Safe Nor Accessible
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.”