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County Defends Architect Selection for Wheaton Library, Recreation Center

The director of the county’s Department of General Services says the public still will have a role in the design.

David Dise, the man charged with overseeing construction of a first-of-its-kind combination library and recreation center, faces a challenge: How to build the project on an accelerated schedule, while still giving the community a say on its appearance and use.

Dise, director of the Montgomery County Department of General Services, said he wants to start the public participation process in January and continue into the spring with at least two charrettes in Wheaton. At these intensive planning sessions, community members could weigh in on the architect’s design strategy and, later, offer reflections on final design concepts.

DGS chose Grimm + Parker Architects from its pool of general contractors. The selection method was a departure from discussions of the project that took place this summer.

Instead of holding an open design competition for the project, as some community members advocated, Dise proposed issuing a request for proposals from architecture firms. A committee that included community representatives would then select a firm. 

Instead, Dise shifted course. He sees the most potential for community input in the designs themselves, rather than in the selection of the architecture firm.

“Design competitions are a gamble,” Dise said. The county runs the risk of getting a firm that is very good with design, but that does not execute it well, he said.

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In addition, the Department of General Services must keep pace with an accelerated schedule laid out by the Montgomery County Council in its construction budget. Dise said that saving six months in the early stages of the process will provide buffer space later on for complicating factors that could cause delays, such as redirecting the road that currently runs between the Wheaton Library and the Wheaton Community Center. 

Dise laid out three reasons why the county is going with Grimm + Parker Architects. 

First, as part of a competitive process done every three years, earlier this year the county awarded the firm a general services contract specifically for recreation centers and libraries. This creates an expectation that the county will give the firm work. 

Second, Grimm + Parker has more experience than any other firm in designing recreation and library facilities for Montgomery County, Dise said. Grimm + Parker has designed Montgomery County’s two most recently-built recreation centers: the Mid-County Recreation Center and the White Oak Recreation Center. It also designed the Rockville Memorial Library, which opened in 2006.

Third, Grimm + Parker has proven its expertise in both design and execution, Dise said.

In addition to the charrettes, a design review team will provide more formal and more technical feedback to Grimm + Parker, Dise said. Members will include staff architects, representatives from the libraries and recreation departments and various stakeholder groups such as Friends of the Library. The Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board will also have a representative, to reflect the regional nature of the library.

Dise said he recognizes that this new center is something that Wheaton has looked forward to with great anticipation, and that he wants to honor those expectations.

Read more articles on Patch about the library and recreation center project in Wheaton:

- County Chooses to Expedite Wheaton Library Design

- Wheaton Library Supporters Oppose Budget Delays

AntonFisher December 05, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I agree with Mr. Dise that the most potential for community input is in the designs themselves, rather than in the selection of the architecture firm. On the other hand, a design competition would have resulted in an innovative library/rec. center design.
Randall Spadoni December 05, 2012 at 03:10 PM
I took a look at some of the library and recreation center designs for Grimm + Parker and there seems to be some good work. I like the new library they designed in Ellicott City and the one in Rockville looks good, as well. They're not necessarily the most innovative or striking and distinctive designs like some I've seen in Seattle and now Washington, DC, but they do incorporate some of the local character of the community and seem like places where I would want to spend time. For Wheaton, I would assume that the architects may want to tie the design of the library to Brookside Gardens and the regional park. Perhaps the Green Wheaton group may want to weigh in to encourage this direction. Since Wheaton has a more residential character and a lot of families, I would hope that the library/rec center would look to be a hub for families in the area, a place where parents could bring their kids regularly during the days and families could come for events and classes (and outdoor performances?) in the evenings. As a dad with young kids, we also love places with outdoor fountain play areas like in downtown Silver Spring or Columbia Heights. I would hope for one of those kinds of areas at the new library/rec center or at the new park in downtown Wheaton. And since the Friends of the Library bookstore is so great at the current library, I would hope for a space for them to be intentionally designed into the new building.
Rachel Young December 05, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Seems like a technocratic maneuver that prioritizes efficiency over community input. Efficiency and collaboration are going to be competing priorities throughout the implementation process. Hopefully a balance can be found in the future.
Avocado December 05, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I hope you give us notice about when these design feedback meetings will be. I live nearby and very much want to attend to give feedback.
TaL December 06, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Too much community feedback and we will be arguing over inane access bridges like the stalled DTSS library and its "community" Just build something, we will live.
AntonFisher December 06, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Could this be an early Wheaton Libray / Rec. Center design. http://www.okksstudios.com/portfolio/boards/wheaton_library.php
Randall Spadoni December 06, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Interesting find. I contacted OKKS studios and they were prompt and helpful in their response. OKKS apparently prepared the Program of Requirements, which defines the scope of the project, but it appears that Grimm + Parker was selected for design services. I was a little surprised to see such an advanced concept as part of this scoping but at least it gives us a taste of what could be. TaL, I agree that too much feedback can slow things down and even make the final design worse. However, I hope that the architects and DGS can take this unique library/rec center as an opportunity to showcase innovative design and bring out the best of Wheaton. The library/rec center will be a major gateway into Wheaton and could be a key draw to visitors and new residents, setting the tone for our city. Citizen interest and enthusiasm can help to raise the profile of this project so that it's taken seriously.
Mike Smith December 06, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I fear that this project will serve more as a barrier than a gateway to Wheaton. With the library and recreation center added to the botanical garden, indoor ice arena, tennis bubble, sports pavilion, as public amenities to the north and outside the central business area, it seems more likely that visitors will drive to the library-rec center and drive straight back home. Meanwhile the downtown area still has an image problem that this project does nothing to address. It will have to be quite a field on parking lot 13 to be able to compete with this project. The neighborhood around the library wish to be able to live next to Wheaton without ever having to visit it (except perhaps for cheap gas) came true. Sorry to be a downer. I very much hope I am wrong.
Randall Spadoni December 06, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I hope you're wrong, too. I lived in Columbia Heights a few years ago when the entire downtown was empty lots and a couple of small businesses. Everyone would hurry through the town center on their way to the metro to get to downtown D.C. where all of the activity was. Now Columbia Heights is a destination in D.C., with a great town center, easy access to an urban mall, a grocery store, and restaurants. I see some of the same kind of activity going on in Wheaton. The two libraries in the Columbia Heights area are not in the downtown but they have both been remodeled and are positive amenities that helps to keep families in the urban area. I think the timing of the new sector plan, new park and town center planned for parking lot 13, library/rec center, and all of the new residential development around the metro could be enough to take us over the tipping point to a truly vibrant town center. Hopefully people will stop by Brookside Garden and then pop over to Wheaton for dinner or the farmers market. The developments can complement rather than compete with each other. Hopefully.
Will N. December 06, 2012 at 09:55 PM
I think you are wrong M. Smith. I don't think this will be a barrier at all to Wheaton. I visit the Rockville library often, and to be honest, its a pain to find parking on some weeknights and most weekends. And because the library is 3/4 a mile from downtown wheaton is not a barrier....to me, it's the opposite and shows that the redevelopment/attractions are not only inside the downtown area, but all over as well. Many of the new residential developments going up around downtown Wheaton are going to have their own recreational facilities anyway, and there's an LA Fitness there already too. And the space that this library would take up in Wheaton can be used for something else (isn't Wheaton an Arts & Entertainment district). Don't just think of what downtown Wheaton doesn't have since the library will be up the street, but think what else can come in.
Mike Smith December 06, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Will N., italianboy, I hope you are right. And I do think of what could come into downtown Wheaton-- a classy ballroom/dancehall like they have at Glen Echo, a language learning-culture center, something like Busboys and Poets... but the fact is that right now the only thing planned (that I know of) for parking lot 13 are the Park & Planning Building and the expanded field. The new Safeway will be great.
Will N. December 07, 2012 at 04:29 PM
In any case, the only way to make sure that SMART revitalization comes to Wheaton is to make sure our elected officials know what we want. Discussions on this website help some and hopefully it'll jumpstart the actual face to face conversations with the council and others.
Mike Smith December 07, 2012 at 07:53 PM
As long as we're daydreaming, I think the County should try to get an FM radio station to relocate their broadcast headquarters to Wheaton. This would help highlight Wheaton's broadcasting heritage, improve identity and visibility as an arts and entertainment district, and complement the existing AM Radio America station.

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