City studying future of east Arlington library, recreation center

Posted Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Public meeting The first public meeting on the feasibility study underway to determine the future of the Hugh Smith Recreation Center and the East Branch Library is set for 10:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 3. at Hugh Smith, 1815 New York Ave. A second public meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 7. http://naturallyfun.org/

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Built 50 years ago, the Hugh Smith Recreation Center on New York Avenue has served its residents well. But it’s not energy efficient, its activity space is poorly laid out and it needs costly repairs to bring it up to code.

Nearby is the East Branch Library. Opened in the 1970s, it is the oldest and busiest of the city’s branch libraries. But it is too small to meet the public’s demands.

Deciding what to do with the two aging facilities won’t be easy, but a new facility combining recreation and library services was recently identified by east Arlington stakeholders as a way to improve their quality of life and to help lure private investment along the New York Avenue corridor.

“Perhaps this could be a catalyst to bigger and better things happening there,” Parks and Recreation Director Pete Jamieson said.

This summer, the Arlington City Council approved a $120,000 contract with Dewberry Architects to explore three options: building a new recreation center at the existing site and expanding the library, building a new recreation center at a different location and expanding the library, or building a combined recreation center and library at a new location.

A combined facility could cost between $15 million and $20 million, which would likely take multiple sources of funding to complete, Jamieson said. About $1 million in federal and bond funding is available for a proposed library expansion, but no money is currently available for major renovations to Hugh Smith or to build a new facility.

“It will likely be at least five years before we could replace one or both services,” he said.

The first public meeting on the feasibility study is set for Aug. 3.

Hugh Smith

The two-story, 25,000-square-foot Hugh Smith Recreation Center at 1815 New York Ave. was originally a YMCA and was built in 1963. It has the city’s only indoor pool.

Besides not meeting code, the building needs an elevator to provide accessibility for people with disabilities to upstairs fitness and meeting rooms, according to city records.

The pool brings in less revenue than the city spends in maintaining it, city records show. Hugh Smith’s drain line system is reportedly close to the point of collapse

“We have a number of infrastructure and code issues that need to be addressed,” Jamieson said.

A 2009 study recommended a $7.6 million expansion, with an upgraded gymnasium, pool and fitness rooms.

Arlington will ask Dewberry to determine how much it would cost to bring Hugh Smith up to code and to estimate construction costs for a new recreation center and for a combined recreation center and library. Draft recommendations are expected in January, Jamieson said.

The library

The East Branch library at 1624 New York Ave. was originally known as the Southeast Branch Library. Doubled in size in 1999, the building, which has the most visitors of all the city’s branch libraries, is still too small to meet the public’s demands, said Libraries Director Cary Siegfried.

During the last fiscal year, more than 191,500 visitors borrowed about 203,000 items and logged in 55,976 computer sessions. The public computers are so popular that patrons sometimes must wait an hour or more for a turn, Siegfried said.

“The building itself is not in bad condition,” Siegfried said. “We just need more room.”

In 2008, Arlington voters approved $500,000 for a library expansion. The city has an additional $500,000 in federal grant funds to help pay for a 1,000 to 2,000-square-foot expansion, which would include adding back meeting room and classroom space that has been taken over by other services.

That project was expected to begin this year, but Siegfried said it was put on hold because of the study involving Hugh Smith.

If the council chooses next year to move forward with a combined facility, Siegfried said, the funding for the library renovations would likely go toward building a new facility. 

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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