Lubber Run

Image from VMDO Architects shows proposed design of the new Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington.

Critics of the design of the new Lubber Run Community Center have picked up some additional time to make their case for changes, but are unlikely to see any massive revisions to the proposal currently on the table.

Significant alteration to the proposed design “is not the road we want to go down,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said late in the evening on July 18, as board members voted 3-2 to approve the construction contract but postpone a final decision on the conceptual design until September.

The vote allows the general contractor to start moving forward on the $46.5 million project, but will provide the public and county-government advisory commissions more breathing room to weigh in on the final design.

The footprint of the proposed community center has drawn a mix of praise and criticism, but the county government was nearly universally panned for moving the planned vote on the concept design to July from the anticipated September.

Even some elected officials were irked.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to provide feedback under the timeline they were expecting,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey.

Of the design itself, Dorsey noted, there remains division. “Some people love it and are ready to move forward, some people have some issues,” he said. “There is a value in letting the deliberative process . . . play out.”

County voters last fall approved bond funding to raze and replace the 60-year-old existing Lubber Run Community Center, located on North Park Street. County officials in recent months have held a number of public sessions to gather input on both the design and programming.

County resident Michael Thomas, who long has advocated for a new community center, said the community-engagement process generally had been impressive – until county staff moved up the date of County Board approval.

“This late change in the timeline is an excellent illustration of why the county’s community-engagement processes are often viewed with distrust and suspicion,” Thomas said at a public hearing that attracted both fans and foes of the VMDO Architects design.

The vote to delay action on the conceptual design won narrow passage, with a majority of Dorsey, John Vihstadt and board chairman Jay Fisette supporting it. Board members Katie Cristol and Libby Garvey voted against the delay, saying the expectation long has been to make refinements after approval of the concept design.

“We’re going to be doing the same thing whether we vote on it tonight or if we vote on it in September,” Garvey said. “I don’t think we’re going to go for [any] major changes at all.”

All board members seemed to agree with that last point; Fisette said the project could be tweaked, but is not headed back to the drawing board. “We have to be on the same page” about that, he said.

Vihstadt agreed. The design was “open to adjustments,” he said, but “I don’t think any of us are feeling we want a radical redesign.”

Fisette acknowledged that the late-in-the-game schedule change was not in keeping with transparency and open government.

“We had a lot of communication and clarity weaknesses,” he said. “We’re going to learn from that.”

Holding off on a final decision was “a formal way to try and repair a process that was broken along the way,” Cristol said.

The new Lubber Run will feature up to 55,000 square feet of space spread over up to four levels. The construction contract totals $37 million, and makes the contractor (James G. Davis Construction Corp.) largely responsible for any cost overruns.