McLean Community Center project nears completion

McLean-area elected officials and civic leaders cut the ceremonial ribbon Dec. 5 to celebrate the nearly finished renovations at the McLean Community Center. Pictured (from left) are Raj Mehra, Alicia Plerhoples, Del. Kathleen Murphy, Paul Kohlenberger, George Sachs, Robert Alden, Del. Rip Sullivan, Supervisor John Foust and state Sen. Janet Howell. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

The McLean Community Center’s renovations aren’t quite finished and plenty of staffers still must move in, but officials on Dec. 5 celebrated how much the upgrades soon will improve the public’s experience.

“Today, the ‘Jewel of McLean’ is shining ever so much more brightly,” said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).

Foust, who had spent 25 years doing construction-claim litigation, expressed awe that the renovations were executed so quickly.

“No construction project of any significance comes back on-time and under-budget,” he said. “This one did, so someone is to be congratulated.”

The $8 million project, designed by RRMM-Lukmire Architects and built by Sorenson Gross Construction Services, added about 7,700 square feet of space to the facility and improved about 33,000 square feet of existing space. Renovations included the addition of two meeting rooms, a multipurpose room, an enclosed courtyard and a larger lobby with a “welcome center” desk.

Upgrades also included an improved stormwater-management facilities, a more attractive entranceway, an open stairwell leading to the second level, new security measures,  better compliance with fire-safety and handicapped-access regulations, a public-address system, upgraded parking-lot lighting and lighted outdoor pathways.

The new courtyard was financed with a $50,000 donation from McLean residents Roberto and Gloria Maria Federigan.

“We’ve been here for more than 40 years,” Roberto Federigan told the Sun Gazette following the renovations’ ground-breaking ceremony on March 22, 2017. “We decided it was time to pay back what the community had done for us and our children.”

The courtyard will have some benches and furniture where visitors can relax,  said George Sachs, the center’s executive director. Center leaders have not decided whether they will rent the space for events, he said.

Most of the community center’s 24 full-time staffers, some of whom were working out of closets and storage rooms, now will occupy a consolidated space near the facility’s front. The only exception will be performing-arts staff, who will have offices near the theater’s entrance in the basement, Sachs said.

Speakers at the event credited the center’s Governing Board for voting in February 2013 to spend the organization’s surplus on the renovation project. The board previously had been accused by local critics of stockpiling cash.

Governing Board chairman Paul Kohlenberger thanked some of the board’s former leaders for making the tough decision to move forward with the project.

The center’s founders sought to provide a place where people could improve their skills and share them with others, practice performing and visual arts, and meet to debate and decide upon important community issues, he said.

“We are stewards of an incredible inheritance,” Kohlenberger said. “We have striven to live up to this proud history and this project will help us extend this legacy to future generations.”

Officials also lauded ceremony attendee Robert Alden, who moved to McLean in 1953 and spearheaded the initiative to build the community center, which opened in 1975. Alden declined to have the center named after him, but its theater eventually was.

Kelly Green Kahn, who serves on the McLean Community Foundation, said the center was where she and her family first found community when they moved in more than a decade ago. Since then, the family has participated in the center’s events and classes.

“We spend a lot of time taking advantage of what I think is one of the foundational places in McLean,” she said.

Robin Walker, a McLean resident and former Governing Board member, was pleased with the upgrades.

“It’s exactly what the McLean community needed – additional meeting spaces, an additional dance studio, a refreshed space for new technology so we can have board meetings with video and connect with an intercom, which we didn’t have before,” she said.

“I think the best part of McLean is our feeling of community, and this really promotes it,” added Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th). “I really like that they’ve opened this and you can see that there’s much more to the community center, whereas before there was just a wall.”

Foust credited his predecessor from decades ago, Lilla Richards, for pressing for the center’s creation. Foust noted that on Feb. 2, 1970, residents living in Small District 1 authorized $800,000 worth of bonds to build the community center and agreed to pay a real-estate-tax surcharge to finance the center’s annual operating costs.

“I am frequently asked by areas in my district and others that don’t have community centers, ‘Why don’t we have one and McLean does?’” he said. “Because in McLean, they believe in community and in point they are willing to pay extra.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was an invitation-only affair, but the community center will open to the public in early January and have an open house on Jan. 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition to touring the spruced-up and expanded facilities, attendees will be able to participate in class demonstrations, learn about upcoming programs and events, and partake of free health screenings. For more information, call (703) 790-0123.

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