DC Public Library (DCPL) heard loud and clear Tuesday night: the community does not want the Rosedale Public Library to be relocated.
The comments were heard as part of the first community meeting to kick off the future renovation or rebuild of the Rosedale Public Library (1701 Gales St. NE).
That library, built in 2010 after grassroots community efforts to establish a neighborhood library, is only 5,000 square foot. A DCPL Masters and Facilities Plan released in 2020 calls for a full service library to serve the Rosedale community. A typical full-service library has about 20,000 square feet, said DCPL Executive Director (ED) Richard Reyes-Gavilan. The project is planned to start in 2028.
“This is a unique project, because we’re not just rebuilding a library on site —or at least we don’t think we are. That remains to be seen,” Reyes-Gavilan said.
To the outside observer, keeping the it on Gales Street doesn’t appear problematic. After all, Rosedale Library is located on a large, open piece of land.
However, this is the one library property over which DCPL does not have complete control, Reyes-Gavilan said, adding that DCPL was not opposed to staying on Gales St. NE. But that decision, he said, was not one that could be made solely by DCPL. “Technically, we’re tenants, as it were,” he said.
That’s because the Rosedale Library is currently co-located with the Rosedale Recreation Center, a 21,000 square foot building. Both are on District-controlled property operated by the District Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and maintained by the Department of General Services (DGS).
DCPL prefers to own or have long-term lease on their sites, allowing them autonomy over the buildings and their maintenance, said Reyes-Gavilan.
“Overall, the community is really excited a new library,” said ANC 7D Commissioner Marc Friend (7D06). “[But] both the recreation center and the library are not really in great shape.”
Friend says the recreation center and library are a central asset to the Rosedale neighborhood. The community would like to see a redesign of the whole campus, both the library and the recreation center.
But that dream depends on another one: co-ordination and co-operation between various arms of DC government.
Why Is This Project Needed?
The DCPL Masters and Facilities Plan found that the 5,000 square feet footprint of Rosedale Neighborhood Library is too small for the community’s needs, proposing it would be better served by a larger, full-service library.
That, said Reyes-Gavilan, is because Rosedale currently lacks age-specific, community and study spaces that District residents have come to expect from their libraries, comparing Rosedale to the 20,000 square foot full service libraries elsewhere in the District.
“You just need more space to be more creative in how you deliver services, and that’s what we talk about when we talk about a full-service library,” the DCPL ED said. “Rosedale is a very transactional library.”
The largest room can hold about 40 people, DCPL said at the meeting, and that’s stretching it to the max, presenters said. Story hours are often held in the nearby recreation center gymnasium.
DCPL has contracted with development company Key Urban to scope out any property located within a 10-minute walk of the current library that has the potential to serve as a new site. The goal here is simply to survey possibilities, said DCPL Director of Capital Planning Jaspreet Pahwa; none of the property owners have been contacted nor the sites ranked or assessed. A sample of potential locations included Hechinger Mall, Capital Landromat (1653 Benning Rd. NE), the nearby Friendship PCS lot (725 19th St. NE) and the Hip Hop Fish and Chicken (2301 Benning Rd. NE).
That could mean DCPL has to buy property, something that has been facilitated by DGS or the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) through mixed-use projects incorporating libraries such as those in Foggy Bottom and West End. A planned Mixed Use (MU) development would have to be compatible with DCPL goals, Pahwa said. A renovation could be considered, but they won’t be taking space in an existing MU faciliy.
Once options are determined, DCPL needs to solicit community and government support and ensure the site requires no remediation. Site acquisition, if required, will add to the timeline. “If there’s unanimity that one idea is horrible,” Reyes-Gavilan siad, “we’re happy to sort of just put that one aside.”
But they are not ruling out staying on site. DCPL has retained CORE, the architects of the current recreation center, to create potential schematics for adapting to the site.
Deep Neighborhood History
Every meeting attendee who spoke universally appealed to DCPL to keep the library at its current location.
Former ANC 6A Commissioner Sondra Phillips-Gilbert passionately spoke to the cause, recollecting the moment when she invited Edwin Brit Wyckoff, author and Rosedale resident to join her in planning the initial library, which opened in a disused day care space in the recreation center. Phillips-Gilbert focused on lobbying city council and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Phillips-Gilbert said that when the $25 million in District funding allocated to library development was reallocated to Eastern Market after the devastating fire of 2009, the community mobilized to get $16.9 million to build the current structure in 2010.
“This community cannot lose this asset,” she said. “we have creative architects that can build out, up all around.” Gilbert said that DCPL needs to consider the community needs, including the potential consequences of neighborhood beefs that would manifest as a result of bringing kids Rosedale and Kingman Park to Carver-Livingston to use a library relocated there. She asked Reyes-Gavilan to focus on the community over the elected officials who would fund the project.
”This is all we have, this is the heart of our community,” Phillips-Gilbert said. So, we don’t need no grand-scale thoughts of moving it over there —you can do it right here.”
The role of maintenance was not explicitly given by DCPL as a reason for wanting control of their sites. But meeting attendees did raise issues with maintenance at Rosedale, particularly with mositure and HVAC issues. While saying he admired the work of DGS and DPR, Reyes-Gavilan noted that DCPL was not responsible for maintenance at Rosedale. “We don’t have the same autonomy that we have in facilities that we operate by ourselves,” he said. “If we have a problem with HVAC, we call DGS […] we’re not the only stakeholder here.”
ANC Commissioner Friend acknowledges that challenges presented by multiple agencies. But he points to the multiple funds located to the campus, not only for the library but also for the pool and fields. “What we need right now is creative thinkers, to be able to look at how we could allow the library to have that independence of space.” There’s no logical reason, Friend said, not to give DCPL authority over the library while DPR has control over a recreation center on the same campus.
“I think that there’s a lot of challenges with co-sharing the campus,” Friend said. “But I think the issue is that it is such a critical issue to the community to have the library and the recreation center, next to one another and working together. For me, to get DCPL and DPR to work together on this will have a long-term benefit that transcends the other spaces.”
At this point, DCPL will shortlist sites and bring them back to the community in 2024. But funding has not been allocated past that preliminary initial work. While DCPL has begun community discussions, Reyes-Gavilan reassured the community that they were working with a long timeline. Most funding is allocated to FY26 to begin initial work, such as selecting a design build team, community engagement and predesign.
Ideally, DCPL design the library in 2028, build in 2030 and open in 2031. That’s an ideal timeline, the DCPL ED said, but it also depends on cost. As of FY26, $24 million has been allocated to the rebuild. But Reyes-Gavilan said inflation and escalation have probably jacked those estimates up by a good $5 to 10 million dollars, depending. And the timeline would be altered if the decision is made to purchase a private lot.
But residents were not having it. “It is the best thing to do, and I would say from the standpoint of the community that relocation is a non-starter,” a resident identifying himself as John said at the meeting. “Thats not anything that anyone in this community would really want.”
This article has been updated.