Post #523: Crowd-source the library design.

Posted on February 5, 2020

As I was walking along Maple the other day, I noticed the inscribed bricks in the sidewalk in front of the the Patrick Henry Library.  I could only vaguely recall how those came to be there, and could find almost nothing on-line about them.

This post has three parts.  1) Dig up the history of those bricks.  Turns out that the only on-line reference I could find is in an old Town of Vienna newsletter.  2) Ask what will happen when they literally dig up those bricks, as the Town goes ahead with the parking garage (plus attached library) planned for that site.  3) Suggest that maybe the town ought to ask the citizens what they’d like to see built there, before they start digging.  Otherwise, we’re relying on the MAC-derived design produced by the Town’s consultants.  The garage will have been designed to match a downtown that may never be built.

Brick history

The Town’s old newsletters are quite a hoot, as I noted in (Post #388).  You can find the entire archive on this page on the Town website.  But they are not searchable — the .pdfs are images (pictures, scans) of the paper-copy newsletters, so you can’t search for text.  You have to pull them up and read them if you want to know what’s in them.

In this case, the Town’s October 1997 newsletter (.pdf) was the sole on-line reference that I stumbled across for those bricks.  I reproduced the article at the top of this posting.

These bricks were not sold by the Town of Vienna, but instead, selected charitable organizations in Vienna had the right to sell these for $100 each*, as a fund raiser for those charitable organizations.

* The $100 cost in 1997 works out to an inflation-adjusted $162 in today’s money (per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator), for an average annual rate of inflation of about 2.4% per year.  That seems modest to most people of my generation, who lived through the post-Vietnam Arab oil embargo inflationary shocks.  During that period, the one-year rate of inflation hit double digits in three separate years: 1975 (12%), 1980 (14%), 1981 (12%).  

Their fate?

And it’s not clear what promise the Town made regarding the long-term fate of these bricks.  Was there some implicit promise that those bricks would be there in perpetuity, so that the Town is legally responsible?   For sure, nobody would have had a sales pitch that said “until we tear that all up in 2022 or so”.

I don’t have a count of the number of bricks in question.   I have not stopped in at the library to see if they could locate the book showing the location of each brick.  For sure, it doesn’t look like they reached their stated goal of 10,000 bricks.  That would have filled the entire sidewalk in front of the library with those bricks.  (At 7 bricks per square foot, 10,000 bricks would pave 185′ of 5′ wide sidewalk.)  Given the spacing of the bricks on the sidewalk, I’d guess they sold maybe 2000 bricks.

So that’s the first interesting question:  What’s the Town going to do with those when that all gets torn up for the new parking garage?  How much does the Town owe to the original purchasers, either legally or morally?  Is it even going to retain brick sidewalks in that area?  (Those are not friendly to anyone who needs to roll over them, or to individuals who otherwise have mobility or visual impairment issues.  Particularly as the sidewalks age and the bricks become unlevel).

If the Town isn’t going to put them back down where they got them from, then what’s the plan?  This might be something to address to the Town’s Public Art Commission:  What can you do with about 2000 bricks of some modest historical significance?

Maybe we could crowd-source this.  That is, have Town-wide contest, and see who has the best idea for preserving those bricks, in some fashion, as the Town moves ahead with its parking garage.

More generally, the Patrick Henry Garage (and library).

Let me briefly recap all the things I find odd about the proposed garage/library.  I’ve discussed these at length on this site, and I’m not even going to reference the postings.  1)  We’re asking agencies who deal with mitigating traffic congestion to pay for our shopper/diner parking, using the pretext that this new Patrick Henry garage will be used by Metro commuters.  2)  If we don’t get somebody else to pay for it, it’s going to be a scramble to cover the cost, as we are pretty much maxing out our capital budget.  3)  The design was clearly intended to match all the MAC buildings that were going to go up on Maple, but now … it’s not clear that’s a smart move.  4)  In our standard ready-fire-aim fashion, the Town is going to do a study of how much parking is needed — after they’ve funded this and another garage.  But mostly, 5)  It’s a GARAGE, with a library tucked in among the thick concrete pillars on the first floor.   I’ve already said my piece about putting the parking underground and creating a small park next to the library.

Maybe this would be another opportunity for crowd-sourcing.  The Town could specify the required number of parking spaces, and the square footage of Library floor space, and ask Vienna citizens to suggest some designs.  At the minimum, we’d get some new thinking on this.  And in addition, we might get a feel for how many people think the current design of library-under-garage is a good idea.