February 17, 2018

New DC Central Library on Hold; Cooper Confident

By LJ Staff

The effort to build a new central library for the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) has hit a pause, as the City Council postponed any deliberation on the proposed project until a new city administration takes over. The $275 million project, to be built on the site of the city’s old convention center, was boosted by the library board and departing Mayor Anthony Williams but bogged down in questions, as the Washington Post reported, about its costs and the potential for renovating the aging and unwieldy Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. DCPL Director Ginnie Cooper expressed confidence that incoming Mayor Adrian Fenty and the new city council will back the project. "I think it will take a while before they can focus on this, but lots of work has been done to get us to this point," she told LJ, adding that she hoped the library would hit the agenda in less than six months.

In November, a 3-2 Council vote stalled the project. There was talk of an emergency library bill being presented at the final City Council meeting December 19, but that was withdrawn. The Post editorialized December 14 that, despite concerns about the cost of a new central and the importance of fixing the branches, the status quo at the MLK library is unacceptable, and a renovation would be costly. "The convention center site is prime real estate for the city, but there is no better public use than a library," the Post opined. "It would serve as a vibrant gathering spot for learning, as has been the case in cities such as Seattle. Other parts of the site would be used for retail space, offices and housing."