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Southeast Library Renovation Detailed

Many participants left the first Southeast Library (407 7th St. SE) renovation meeting Tuesday night concerned about what services will be available during the two-year construction process. At the Oct. 30th meeting at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of DC Public Library, announced that there is no plan for an interim library location.  

Capitol Hill residents and patrons of the library were offered details about the impending renovation and modernization of the nearly 100-year-old building during the hour-long presentation, which included about twenty minutes for audience questions. 

The $23.5 million library renovation “starts now,” announced Reyes-Gavilian. A request for RFP will be issued in early 2019 and a builder, partnered with an architect, will be selected by the spring of 2019. Architectural designs will be developed during 2020 and construction is slated to begin in early 2021.

The grand re-opening of the building is slated for 2022, coinciding with the library’s centennial. One of the District’s three Carnegie libraries, the facility opened its doors in 1922.

Can’t Just Say ‘Take A Hike’

While the presentation appeared to generate a level of excitement for the library’s rejuvenation among attendees, there was also general concern that residents will be forced to find a substitute facility for at least two years while the library will be closed with no interim replacement.

Reyes-Gavilan described how this approach had been employed in other District library renovations, including the Northeast library modernization in 2013. He noted that the Northeast library was only about 3/4 of a mile away, and added that some Southeast library programming could potentially be relocated to nearby facilities such as the Hill Center. 

Attendees at the meeting seemed surprised by the news. Many participants in the Q&A session took the opportunity to express their frustration.

“We need something there. You can’t just say ‘take a hike’,” one attendee said to applause. “Old people need access to libraries. We have young mothers with children. I don’t think it’s outrageous […] for us to ask for a bookmobile or double-wide to be installed while all this is going on.”

Another regular patron reiterated the point, saying, “I think closing down the library and not having something substantive here […] would I think be very damaging to our community and I would hope there would be some way to sort this through as we go further.”

Reyes-Gavilan said that he was open to the idea of a holds pickup/drop off location being installed. “I will promise you that we will come back and be creative in ways in terms of delivering library services to the general vicinity,” he continued.

One Side of Seventh

Reyes-Gavilian also announced that the library’s footprint will not extend underground past 7th Street SE and thus will not join with the Eastern Market Metro Station, as had been floated in an earlier proposal commissioned by Barrack’s Row Main Street. Reyes-Gavilan said that, while it is possible that the library may go deeper through excavation, it will not expand.

The project will still be undertaken at the same time as the Eastern Market Metro Plaza renovation. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who attended the meeting and spoke briefly, said that “the plaza [will become] an outdoor extension of the library.”

No indication of how this vision will be implemented was offered.

Reyes-Gavilan promised that the renovated library will offer more room than the present 10,000 square foot space, but no specifics were given.

‘Make Sure to Speak Up’

Approximately five community meetings will be held during the design phase of the process. Surveys, focus groups, tours and meetings with other stakeholder groups will also take place.

Allen emphasized the role of the community in the design and execution of the project. “It is a community driven process. Your voice has to be heard and you have to make sure to speak up,” he said.

The Southeast modernization will be the District’s 24th library renovation or construction project undertaken since 2009.

Reyes-Gavilan emphasized that the process will be a long one but that he is confident that the effort will be worth it.

“There are so many things that we will be going through together, but ultimately, what we don’t want to lose sight of, if the library’s going to turn 100 when we open, wouldn’t it be great if we could have this library be relevant for the next 100 years for a whole new community of users.”

For more information on the project visit the project website at https://www.dclibrary.org/southeastlibraryrenovation.

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