Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wheaton Recreaction Center/Library Renewal - Comments on Planned Construction

Update 6/27/14: The film "Led Zeppelin Played Here" is being screened at AFI Silver Spring for a week!  Check it out!

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There is a huge construction project planned for Wheaton that I haven't touched on yet -- the construction of a new Library and Recreation Center.  There is a debate about whether to demolish the old Rec Center's building or save it.  I hadn't formed a strong opinion one way or the other -- until the past couple of days.

Yesterday JUTP published a nice piece about December's 50th anniversary celebration of the current Rec Center building mentioning its history and artistic attributes.  The building does look unique with its Japanese-style rooflines.

Near the end of the article it is mentioned that there is "a list of 13 organizations willing to take over the building" and reuse it for other purposes" (the arts, theater, a cultural center) and here's a proposal for how the site could be used to include both the existing and new buildings. 
How the new recreation center and library (right) could fit in with the old one. Image from Montgomery County Planning Department and from JUTP blog.


That is pretty convincing. This sounds like the perfect solution.  Instead of just letting a group use it, the county should auction the old building off.  Why not have the 13 interested groups make offers?  It could include in the contract that the group that gets the building has to bring it up to code as well as keep the historic facade.  That way the county could make some money on it, the building is reused instead of being demolished (remember Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?), historic preservationists are happy, a community group has a space which also adds more life to the community vs a grassy open lot where that building used to be.

This ideas is so logical it boggles my mind.  It doesn't matter if the building is auctioned off cheaply -- at least it isn't given away.  And the community group that gets the building gets to choose their own renovation plans and do whatever they want inside, as long as it passes safety inspections.  Some community groups might be able to renovate the building cheaply using volunteer/donated labor.  More power to them!  I see no reason to demolish a building that can be renovated.

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Personally, I use the library a lot more than the rec center.  The library is very well used so I hope it can be rebuilt as quickly as possible once the construction project begins.  I don't mind the delays in beginning the construction because that means I get to use the library longer before it is temporarily closed, and I'm sure the crowds studying and using the computers there every night agree.  The library serves a vital role in the community -- people fill the tables reading and studying while other people occupy all of the computer terminals every time I go there in the evenings.

I hope the newly constructed library will be more spacious to accommodate all of these people along with the book stacks, children's area, and used book store.  There is clearly a need in Wheaton for study/computer lab space.  It will be sad when our library is temporarily closed to be rebuilt, even though I know it will be nice to eventually have a new building.

I hope the sidewalk outside the library and rec center can remain open during the construction so people don't have to cross the street to avoid it as they did when the Wheaton Safeway was under construction.  That was a major inconvenience.

Also, during the construction I hope the authorities lay a new sidewalk that is set back from the street so it is more pleasant for walking. They should then remove the old sidewalk and plant grass and trees in the area between the new one and the road, as is already the practice in other locations in Wheaton.  See my post about this here.

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