Capitol Hill Library Receives Additional Funding

One idea for public art. Photo: DC Public Library

Users of the Capitol View Library felt shortchanged this spring by the District’s budget process. Residents hoped that, in a year or two, a gleaming, modernized library would help mark their neighborhood, which is seeing new condos and development projects go up. But after the renovation project’s $10.5 million budget was slashed by more than half, residents asked where the money went. Now some of it is back.

A neighborhood group called the Capitol View Library Coalition (CVLC) successfully pushed for more dollars to give the two-story library building, built in 1965, an exterior facelift. The DC Council fast-tracked the addition of $2 million for the project, still a downgrade from the original budget but enough for a fuller modernization.

DC Public Library Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said that money will be available in October, thanking Councilmember David Grosso and the District government. He and the project team presented their next steps to the community on July 19. With the exterior renovation now part of the project, the library aims to reopen in summer 2018. Interior work has been underway since February, with demolition and roof work completed.

Reyes-Gavilan told the community that under the original plan “we were going to have a nicely renovated interior library, but the exterior was going to look the same sort of drab, uninviting space that it is now. But that’s all going to change, thanks to the additional funding.”

This fall, 3,000 square feet of temporary space will open by way of a library “modular.” The interim structure will feature computers, some tables and chairs and books, and likely be stationed at the J.C. Nalle Elementary School property, according to Reyes-Gavilan. That’s a few blocks from Capitol View Library, but members of the CVLC say the city did not take input on the temporary location site.

Residents and Reyes-Gavilan alike said they want the new library to have a distinct presence in the community. The design team is looking to remake the facade, create a better “sense of arrival” with landscaping and outdoor seating, and reconnect it with the neighborhood. Concept designs show the building covered with greenery on all four sides. Seating and physical artwork could also be featured outdoors, said Ronnie McGhee, principal at the architecture firm R. McGhee & Associates. “The whole space takes on a garden-like air,” McGhee said.

As for the interior, the project emphasizes the creation of more space for the public. The amount of area devoted to meeting rooms will more than double, to 2,650 square feet, according to plans. The redesigned first floor will have an adult computer area, reading corner, and study rooms. The second floor is to be dedicated entirely to children and teens, with reading areas, storytime space, and computer desks. The lowest floor will contain a meeting room and a dedicated workroom for the Friends of the Capitol View Library.

The building facade will be redesigned, with a more definite picture expected to be released in September at a community meeting. Designs will also be presented to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7E and the Commission on Fine Arts. Architects talked of various concepts, such as the inclusion of artful metal plates as a second design element to the windows and walls. They pointed to the Tenley-Friendship Library in Northwest as an example. That building opened in 2011 and features orange metal screens over large windows to provide shade and an architectural edge.

Larger windows is one request the CVLC has repeatedly made. Iola Anyan debated with Reyes-Gavilan and the project team at the meeting on the merits of larger windows and more sunlight. Reyes-Gavilan said the new windows will bring in ample natural light, while Andrew Blumenfeld, the library’s director of capital planning and construction, said outfitting the building with larger windows poses structural concerns. Defending the design work, Reyes-Gavilan said, “we wanted to have a dramatic beautification of the exterior space,” and that the tight budget allows for little flexibility to plans now.

For Anyan and others in the CVLC, the window discussion is just one example where the city ought to listen to the community more. Anyan has sat in DC Council hearings and private meetings with library officials on the project, but often the city has been reluctant to be forthcoming with details. For example, the CVLC wasn’t notified before the July community meeting about the planned interim space’s not opening until the fall, according to Anyan. That’s despite the CVLC’s advocating for interim sites other than J.C. Nalle, which Anyan says is atop a “huge hill” and difficult to reach for seniors. “We’re trying to work together, but it feels like it’s not being reciprocated,” she says.

The CVLC – which includes groups like ANC 7E, Friends of the Capitol View Library, the Marshall Heights Civic Association – is also pursuing more funding for the new library’s opening day book collection. CVLC asked for $100,000 but the city only found $50,000 to give, according to Anyan.

“I’m just interested in making sure our kids and our community have a space,” says Francel Bellinger, who has been advocating with Anyan for months on the project.

While they are glad to see the additional money for exterior renovations, the city’s outreach has disappointed them. “We’re doing this out of our concern for the community, and we would rather like to work together and communicate,” Anyan says.


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