Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Progress with Tenley Library?

According to the Janney parent newsletter, Roadside Development is proposing a Public-Private Partnership to redevelop the intersection of Albemarle Street and Wisconsin Ave. There is a Q&A posted on their website (recommended to download the PDF to see the images):

Who is proposing this?

Roadside Development, the company that built the CityLine condos across the street from Janney.

What's in it for Janney?

Conceivably, this project could fund major improvements to Janney's facilities, including an addition and renovations to the current building. The current parking lot would be moved underground, freeing up that space for other uses. But a condo building would take over part of what is now the soccer field.

What, specifically, is Roadside Development proposing?

Roadside Development has described three major components to this project. 1. A new Tenley-Friendship Library. 2. A condo building that would be constructed partially above the new library and partially on a section of Janney’s soccer field, with underground parking for residents and for the school and the library. 3. An addition to the school with space for four new classrooms, a library, and a gym. The proposal also includes renovation of the existing school building.

On the left is a sketch from Roadside Development. The school addition is on the hillside west of the current building. A new soccer field has been built in back of the school.

This image may help illustrate the major elements of the proposal. The purple area shows, approximately, the portion of Janney's soccer field that would be covered by the new condo building. The green area is the current parking lot, which would disappear, allowing most of that space to be used as a play area, or as part of a new soccer field. The blue area would be the site of the new addition. The demountables aren’t shown on this image. They would be removed.

How tall would the condo building be?

Six stories high, reaching 65 feet above the level of the soccer field. The building would be about the same height as the condos at Cityline, across Albemarle.

How many units would be in the building?

Roadside’s representatives have said it could include anywhere from 100 to 150 condos

How does that size compare to the Cityline condo building?

There are 204 units in the Cityline building.

How far would it be from the school?

According to Roadside’s architect, it would be at least 85-90 feet from the school

How would cars reach the underground parking lot?

There would be access to Wisconsin through the alley beside St. Ann’s. St. Ann’s owns this alley, so the developers would have to obtain an easement allowing for this use of the property.

How much parking would there be for Janney?

The first level of the underground parking lot would contain parking spaces for the library and the school. Roadside is assuming that 50-55 of these spaces would be assigned to the school, and 20 to the library.
The Janney spaces would available for library users during evenings and weekends. Condo residents would park on lower floors which would not be accessible to the school or library.

Does this mean that Janney would lose its soccer field?

No, but in order to relocate the soccer field, the existing playground in back of the school would have to be moved to the area east of the school, which is now part of the soccer field. If we chose to increase the size of the soccer field, all but the basketball courts would probably have to be relocated.

How much land would Janney give up for the condo building, compared to the space the school would gain by putting the parking underground?

We don’t know yet. Roadside has promised to provide this information.

How large is the proposed addition to Janney?

It would be a two-story structure just west of the current school, built into the side of the hill and using some of the space where a demountable now sits. The addition would be connected to the main building on both first and second floors. One floor would hold a gym (4700 square feet) and the other floor would contain four classrooms (each 700 sq. ft.) plus a library (2200 sq. ft.) The addition would also have bathrooms. This would be a net increase of three classrooms over Janney’s current configuration. (The demountables, with their three classrooms, would go away, but the new library would allow our existing library to be converted into two classrooms.)

The proposed design includes a green roof which creates potential learning opportunities. The initial design has the gym on the second floor. Placing classrooms on top of the gym would require additional structural support, since the gym spans the building with no interior load bearing walls.

Does Janney need this much additional space?

Janney’s in-boundary enrollment has been climbing. There is no reason to anticipate that this trend will end anytime soon. The school needs one additional classroom for the 2007-2008 school year, even with pre-K enrollment cut down to half a class. Because of space limitations, Janney has not been able to accept out-of-bounds students in recent years.

The lack of space and general overcrowding has affected the school in several ways. There are a number of teachers and other professionals who are working in inadequate spaces. This includes the ESL teacher, the Occupational Therapist, and the Speech Language Pathologist who all work out of converted closets that are far too small. The school Social Worker and School Psychologist have no space dedicated to their needs and must “make do” despite the confidential nature of their work. The school gym is also used as a cafeteria and auditorium and is insufficient in size for all three purposes. Finally, the lack of classroom space is causing the school to either add more demountables (portable classrooms), which take up playground space, or to allow class sizes to rise dramatically. Finally, the lack of classroom space causes us to regularly turn away many in-boundary students for Pre-Kindergarten each year.

On the other hand, the overcrowding should ease a bit when sixth grade moves to Deal. Currently this is expected to happen for the 2009-2010 school year.

Are renovations at Janney part of the plan?

Yes. The details would have to be worked out, but the priorities for this renovation include major upgrades to the electrical system, heating and air conditioning, and an elevator. The amount available for renovations depends upon the amount spent on the addition and the parking. The more these cost, the less will be available for renovations. Again, the precise numbers are not yet available.

How would all this be financed?

Roadside’s representatives say that their condo development could generate somewhere in the range of $10 million to $20 million for the “public” part of this project: library, school, and the underground parking for both. In theory at least, this money could finance a substantial part of the improvements at Janney.

Would the money from Roadside’s condo development be enough, by itself, to build the addition and renovate Janney's existing building?

We don’t know the answer to that, but Roadside's representatives have suggested that additional funds would be needed. They have talked about the additional tax revenue that this project will generate, and suggested that this represents, potentially, an additional source of funds for the overall project.

Is there any guarantee that funds generated by this project will be designated specifically for improvements at Janney, rather than simply going into the city’s coffers?

This is a big and important question, and no one knows the answer at this point. The arrangements under which the money could be set aside and specifically used for work at Janney are, at this point, completely up in the air. The DC government owns the land, and DC Public Schools controls its use. They ultimately will decide how it is used, and where the money from such a joint development project would be spent. There is, however, at least one precedent in which private development of part of a school site was used specifically to rebuild that school. This is the Oyster School project in Woodley Park a few years ago.

Isn’t DCPS already planning to carry out renovations at Janney?

The DCPS master facilities plan currently foresees spending $4.6 million on improvements at Janney in the year 2013. The plan provides very few details beyond that.

Who will decide whether this happens?

That’s another complicated question.

First of all, both the library system and DCPS would have to agree to it. Ginnie Cooper, the head of DC public libraries, has said that she’d be happy to cooperate with a joint development plan, as long as it moves ahead quickly. The library is proceeding with plans to build a new, stand-alone library on the site, and Cooper does not want to put that on hold while waiting for the community and officials to make up their minds about an alternative. Based on the library’s current timetable, this could mean that the Roadside proposal would have to be approved by the end of this year in order to be viable.

The leadership of DCPS has not yet weighed in on this idea. Representatives from other parts of the DC government, however, including the office of the mayor and Council Member Mary Cheh, have stated that they will support this project if the community supports it.

The developers are planning to seek approval for this project through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) process. It would be submitted to the ANC as well as the Zoning Commission.

How long would it take before this could be finished?

After the project was approved and all construction documents drafted, construction of the library and condo building could take two to three years, because it requires a lot of work underground. The Janney addition, on the other hand, could be built much more quickly, within six months or so, because it wouldn’t require lots of digging.

Why not combine the school library and the Tenley-Friendship Library? Can this be considered as part of the plan?

DC Public Libraries is already moving ahead with redevelopment plans for several branch libraries, including Tenley. It appears that the window of opportunity for such a plan has passed.

Must I make up my mind about this now?

Haste makes waste, of course, but there is some time pressure because of the library's plans to move ahead with its own library. Once the library actually starts building a separate, stand-alone building, a joint project won't be possible anymore. This could happen within a year.

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