With the City Council in recess until the second week of September, I haven’t sent out information on municipal affairs as regularly as I normally do. I’m writing now to provide an update on recent activity related to the Library renovation project; on the Pepco and WSSC projects that have been underway for some time in the City; and on several other issues.
County Councilmember Hucker to Attend September 11 City Council Meeting. County Councilmember Tom Hucker was previously scheduled to appear before the City Council on July 10, but that was postponed so he could attend the Community Conversation on Racial Equity and Social Justice that was hosted by the County Executive and the County Council President on the same night. I’m pleased Councilmember Hucker’s appearance has been rescheduled for our September 11 meeting. He’ll be making remarks starting at 6:00 PM, following by Q and A until around 7:00 PM.
Inconsistent Postal Service Mail Delivery. I appreciated the many messages I received from residents when I asked for examples of inconsistent/problematic mail delivery or other concerns about the Postal Service. I shared that information with Congressman Raskin’s office, and suggested a meeting with relevant Postal Service personnel to discuss residents’ experiences and explore how to make improvements. I’m pleased that the Congressman’s office and Mayor Stewart have arranged for the Postal Service’s Capital District Manager to appear before the City Council on September 25. This will be an opportunity for Councilmembers and residents to describe their experiences, ask questions, and make recommendations.
Proposed Unaccompanied Migrant Children’s Facility on Laurel Street, NW. I circulated this a couple of times over the last several days, but it appears some of those messages may not have shown up in the neighborhood email lists, so I’m including the information here as well.
There’s a proposal to house unaccompanied migrant children in the building on Laurel St. in Washington, DC a block from the Takoma Park Farmers Market site, where the Education First foreign language school has been located. This facility would be operated by a contractor on behalf of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which handles this type of housing for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The proposal has been publicly denounced by Washington Mayor Bowser and DC Ward 4 Councilmember Todd, and on Friday Mayor Stewart sent a letter on behalf of the Takoma Park City Council expressing our solidarity with the DC elected officials' position.
I think it’s important for us to make it clear that we oppose the abhorrent Trump Administration policies that are behind this proposal, and I’m glad the City has gone on the record in this fashion. The letter can be seen through this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/city-blog/a-letter-supporting-dc-mayor-bowser-on-proposed-laurel-st-nw-facility/
Pepco/WSSC Projects. Residents may recall I circulated a comprehensive update on these projects in late June: http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2019/6/25/update-on-utilities-projects-june-25-2019. That information is still a generally accurate explanation of where things stand. Since then, I’ve been pressing the utilities to re-pave the road surfaces where work is complete, and to smooth out the worst spots in areas where more excavation work is scheduled.
Pepco says it’s planning to do the road surface restoration of Eastern Avenue between Cedar and Piney Branch (through the Piney Branch intersection) this month. That’s encouraging news, as the surface conditions along that stretch of road have been atrocious for some time. As noted in my June summary, Pepco still plans more excavation work along portions of Takoma Avenue and Fenton Street. Most of that work is supposed to be completed later this year, with the restoration to follow. Pepco has stated they would like to finish the excavation in time to then do the surface restoration before the colder weather arrives. I’ll continue pushing them on that point.
In addition, I shared with Pepco earlier this month a listing of the most unsafe/problematic sections of the Takoma/Fenton road surfaces, and they agreed to have their contractor review those spots to see if they can be fixed up to at least make some improvements in the extremely uneven portions or the areas that cause the most serious vibration to vehicles. I’m hopeful we’ll see some improvements. Meanwhile, Pepco representatives will appear the Council at our October 2 meeting to provide an update on the project. I look forward to getting more answers at that time about the schedule for the remaining work.
The excavation work for the WSSC water main project on Philadelphia Avenue is complete up to Chicago Avenue (work is continuing beyond that point in the Silver Spring direction). The information I received earlier this month indicates that WSSC has submitted the required paperwork to the State Highway Administration for re-surfacing the roadway up to Chicago Avenue. This would also be encouraging news, as residents of Philadelphia between Piney Branch and Chicago have been plagued by vibrations from the uneven road surface. Typically it’s a number of weeks between when the paperwork is filed and the resurfacing can begin. So, I don’t have an exact start-up date for the re-surfacing, but I hope it will be in September.
Library Project. In our last three Council meetings in July we had extensive discussions about the Library project. In our final meeting on July 31 the Council voted unanimously to continue working with Greg Lukmire of RR/MM Lukmire Architects, our chosen architectural firm, in a phased process that will ensure we have additional opportunities to review and vote on the project, rather than approving a contract for the bulk of the architectural work all at once.
This link from my July 24 blog offers a detailed summary of where things stood prior to the July 31 meeting: http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2019/7/22/july-22-amp-24-city-council-meeting-agendas. And this is a link to the agenda information for the July 31 meeting: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190731-4.pdf.
As detailed in those documents (and as discussed in our July Council meetings) there are some key uncertain points about the design, cost and floodplain issues that need to be clarified before we’ll be ready to move toward completing the more detailed architectural plans for the project. Most importantly, it’s not entirely clear whether the funds borrowed through the State bonding process, along with the direct State grants we’ve received, and the monies potentially available from our cable television contract will be sufficient to cover the cost of the project.
So, while the initial plan had been to vote in late July on the full architectural contract with a price tag of slightly under $800,000, a number of us on the Council felt that -- with key aspects of the project design which will have a big impact on the cost still needing to be worked out -- it made more sense to take a phased approach to the architectural work. And I’m pleased that’s what we ended up doing with our vote on July 31.
Under this revised approach, we agreed to a seven-month contract for no more than $300,000, which includes an interim review with Mr. Lukmire in 90 days, probably in early November (this will take place in a City Council meeting). At that time we’ll be able to get further clarification on the uncertain areas and we’ll have the ability to indicate to him whether we think he’s on the right track. Then at the end of the seven-month period, we’ll have another session along the same lines. By that time, based on the work Mr. Lukmire and his firm are doing and our further review of the floodplain issues, we should have an appropriate level of information on the projected costs to enable us to decide how best to proceed with the detailed design process, preparation of construction documents, permitting tasks, etc. That would involve a separate contract, on which the Council would have to vote again.
I think this type of staged approach is better suited to the Library project, given where things stand, and the phasing should give us more flexibility to adjust the design if we need to, in order to help manage the costs. As I’ve stated previously, I’m a strong supporter of the project, and I look forward to a time when the City has an updated Library that enables us to expand upon the vital, innovative programs and services the facility currently makes available to the community. But I also think it’s essential for us to do all we can to keep costs under control.
If, as the process unfolds, it becomes clear that the project will cost substantially more than anticipated, we’ll have some decisions to make about how to potentially modify the design. Of course, we won’t know for sure about the costs until we receive construction bids (which will happen much later on). But in the meantime, the phased approach will help ensure we don’t get ahead of ourselves by committing prematurely to an inappropriate design concept, or proceeding with a version of the project we can’t afford.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One