Options for D.C. central library include $250 million makeover

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Photo - Martin Luther King Jr. library in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Martin Luther King Jr. library in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Abby Hamblin

A D.C. Council committee on Thursday weighed what it sees as the city's three options for its poorly-functioning central library: sell the building and move operations, perform extensive repairs with an estimated pricetag of $10 million or completely remodel the MLK library at a cost to taxpayers of up to $250 million.

"It doesn't mean we're putting a for sale sign on it," said Councilman Tommy Wells, who chairs the committee. "We're looking at the possibilities."

The assessment of the District's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library comes after a report by the Urban Land Institute found last year that the current building at Ninth and G streets NW was too expensive for the city to maintain. Now, the Freelon Group has provided some structural possibilities for renovating or moving the library, with Jair Lynch Development Partners offering financial estimates.

Citizens and organizations presented a wide range of concerns and suggestions for the building's future at a hearing Thursday -- including the library providing adaptive services for the hearing and visually impaired and whether renovations would be damaging to the building's architectural integrity. Built in 1972, the structure was designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and has been designated as a historic landmark.

Expanding the building and selling some of its space to help pay for renovations was discussed. Entities such as a community college and housing units were considered as good options for mixed occupancy in the building.

Stuart Gosswein, of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, said this option could help build on the synergy of the Penn Quarter area in which it is located.

"We want to make sure we're building toward a 24 hour kind of downtown and also piggybacking on what the library is offering." Gosswein said. "There are uses that were identified at the hearing that would be really compatible."

The idea of mixed occupancy was explored at the sight of the redeveloped Tenley-Friendship Library in 2008 and 2009, by former Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration, which planned to build residential space on top of the library. The plans were ultimately canceled after much debate between community leaders, Fenty's administration and library officials.

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