The McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) is advancing a revised, single-building concept for its proposed art center at McLean’s Clemyjontri Park that would be more efficient, accessible and secure than the initial multiple-building design.
The new plan offers “vastly increased” design efficacy and site management, said MPA executive director Lori Carbonneau.
MPA’s earlier proposal called for a multi-building, campus-style approach that would retain the residence of the late Adele Lebowitz, who donated land for the handicapped-friendly park, which opened in 2006.
There would have been a gallery building with two pavilions and a pair of parallel classroom wings to the northwest. Those buildings would have surrounded Lebowitz’s house, which MPA planned to use for administrative and office purposes.
MPA in June 2020 began working with CannonDesign, architect W. Kenneth Wiseman and the engineering firm of Walter L. Phillips Inc. The team in July executed the art organization’s vision for the site.
The revised design retains Lebowitz’s house, but combines the other buildings into one structure. Designers did this because of safety and security concerns, Carbonneau said.
The previous design had 27 exterior doors and no vantage point for seeing the entire building, she said.
Switching to a single-building design also will reduce operating and maintenance costs, Carbonneau said. The previous design would have required seven HVAC systems, versus a single, integrated system with one building.
The bulk of the newly designed building would be located near an existing parking lot and farther away from trees.
The facility’s footprint would be about 10 percent larger than earlier proposed because previous covered walkways had been moved indoors, but “dramatically” would improve access to the site by disabled people, such as those using walkers or wheelchairs, or people laden down with art supplies, she said.
“It’s going to be a lot more comfortable for them, particularly in inclement weather, to enter at one side of the building and be able to walk to the other, as opposed to navigating those exterior doors and covered and uncovered walkways,” Carbonneau said.
The structure, now called the “Commons Building,” would be built on a single, at-grade space, causing less disruption to the property, she said. Handicapped-accessible parking would be located near the building’s entrance.
The building would feature an “organic” curving wall linking the wings and facing the courtyard and Lebowitz’s home, Carbonneau said. The courtyard would be a “warm, inviting and active space,” she said.
The facility’s grass overflow-parking area would be connected by trails to a future gazebo to Clemyjontri’s playground. Walkways throughout the park also would present opportunities for public art, she said.
MPA officials have been considering parking needs carefully because traffic figures obtained during the pandemic do not reflect normal conditions, Carbonneau said.
Preliminary work for the art center will continue over the next 12 to 18 months. The center’s programming would be planned so as to avoid peak usage times at the park, she said.
Trees would shield much of the art center from the playground. The gallery section would have a “floating” barn roof inspired by the structure that for nearly three centuries stood near Lebowitz’s house, Carbonneau said.
“It feels like the true embodiment of the marriage of connecting art and community, which is our mission, and the natural marriage of the outdoors and the arts, which is our shared vision and hope for this site,” she said.
MPA estimates its administrative staff of eight to 10 people would be on site from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Art-education classes, featuring an instructor with five to 12 students, would be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays.
MPA would hold eight to 12 exhibition openings per year, typically drawing about 100 attendees, and those would be held from 7 to 9 p.m. The arts group also would host three special events annually at the site between 7 and 10 p.m. Those events likely would attract between 100 and 250 guests.
According to MPA’s preliminary parking and traffic analyses, moderate parking additions beyond the new lot would exceed demand for both the arts group and playground, even during peak times, Carbonneau said.
Park Authority Board Chairman William Bouie called the presentation “fantastic,” but was concerned about the site’s parking.
“The park is overwhelmed today,” Bouie said. “I was at the park a week ago and even what we thought was overflow parking was absolutely packed.”
Ron Kendall, the board’s Mason District representative, asked if MPA was considering solar power for the building. Carbonneau said she liked that prospect and thought the new facility would make an excellent showcase opportunity for one of Dominion Energy’s solar initiatives.
MPA plans to hold a public meeting on the revised plan later this year. Following public comments and additional plan modifications, the Park Authority Board anticipates action approve the master plan in June 2021. Additional review and special-exception processes would take one more year.
Construction could begin as early as 2022. MPA will finance the project with private funds, but would accept contributions from the Park Authority, Carbonneau said.
“We are really excited in the Dranesville District about this project and its potential,” said FCPA board treasurer and Dranesville representative Timothy Hackman. “I think the opportunity to expand and enrich the offerings which we have available at [Clemyjontri] through the MPA project is really exciting and I think it further expands and broadens the vision that Adele Lebowitz had for her property.”
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