The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), Department of General Services (DGS), and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) provided the latest update for the upcoming Shepherd Park Community Center project at a meeting Thursday evening. This addition will add a gymnasium, kitchen, fitness room and multipurpose space to the school. These spaces will be used by the school during the day and by DPR in the evening.
The prior meeting on this project was very contentious. Many nearby neighbors were upset with what they thought was a lack of communication about the project. Several specific areas of concern were expressed. A groundbreaking ceremony planned for early September was cancelled. Councilmember Brandon Todd and his staff took note of the sentiment and arranged for Thursday’s additional meeting to give the design team time to address the residents’ concerns.
Community Center Materials Update
One of the biggest points of difference from the August meeting was the material that the team proposed to use for the exterior sheathing or “skin” of the building. Their original concept was to use a “brick-like” aluminum material.
However, whatever benefits in energy efficiency or cost the architect imagined were quickly outweighed by the disapproval of the audience. Howls of protest sent the design team back to the drawing board.
At last night’s meeting, they presented their second alternative: A fiber cement product known by the brand name SwissPearl. The manufacturer states that the panel’s versatility, ease of installation, “low consumption of resources and energy for their manufacture, and their long working life, make them the epitome of sustainable construction”. The architect described the panels as “softer and warmer” than the previous option.
Helpfully, the design team constructed a mockup of a panel installation for display outside of the multipurpose room. The color they are considering is the reddish one in the upper left corner. The long, thin strips will be placed over windows with gaps spaced to control the amount of sunlight that enters the building. The cladding will be installed in six-inch tall panels to evoke the horizontal brick pattern of the existing buildings.
Unhelpfully, DGS will be removing the mockup today (9/27/19). Removing the mockup before most community stakeholders could see it makes very little sense. Even presenting it toward the end of a nighttime meeting was less than ideal because attendees only got a chance to look at it in the dark. I had to go home and get my DSLR lighting kit to get a decent photo of it. Regardless, the concept looked feasible and seemed to garner the acquiesce of the audience.
Another source of contention with the previously presented plan was its treatment of the current dumpster site; it didn’t consider it at all. As you may know, the current trash dumpster site is a sore spot for neighbors. The flimsy gate that surrounds the dumpster is prone to blowing open, which allows paper trash to flow all over the block. It also attracts other undesirable activities.
Last night, the team proposed an unspecified upgrade over the existing fencing, similar to this image that I snatched off of Google. The idea is to match the “wood-grained PVC slats” of the enclosure to the terra-cotta color of the gymnasium cladding as closely as possible. Due to requirements of the trash truck lift, it is not possible to reorient the gate opening away from the street.
The team also did a bit of research into the reason why the dumpster was moved from the Kalmia side of the school to the Jonquil side. The presenter stated simply that the dumpster needed to be closer to the kitchen to prevent the janitorial staff from having to drag trash and food waste to the opposite side of the building.
Existing Multipurpose Room Refresh
Although renovating the existing multipurpose room completely is outside of the scope of this project, the team has dedicated some funding to perform a “refresh” of the space. This will include painting the entire room and replacing the “temporary” green plastic flooring with an engineered wood product meant to evoke the gym’s original hardwood flooring.
Amazingly, the planners still believe this new addition can be completed by the beginning of the next school year 🤣. I’ll bring a nice jug of coffee and some donuts for the team if that happens.
If weather and permitting work out as planned, excavation of the gymnasium site should begin by mid-October.
Last night’s meeting was largely a stroll on well trodden ground. New attendees got to see the design up close and ask all the questions that had been asked and answered in previous meetings. Councilmember Todd and DPR Director Brent Sisco very gently explained how budget limitations took some of the most desirable components of the project, like the rooftop play space, off the table. They also pledged to “do everything that they can” to compensate for the loss of outdoor play space.
Curiously, many of the most vocal critics of the project were not present last night, including some of the immediate neighbors. I don’t know if that speaks to their feelings on the project or to the difficulty of notifying residents about public meetings.