Minutes for CFA Meeting — 18 May 2023

Members participating:
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Lisa Delplace
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Hon. Duncan Stroik

Staff present:
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Sarah Batcheler, Assistant Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard
Kay Fanning
Daniel Fox
Carlton Hart
Tony Simon

(Due to the absence of Chair Billie Tsien, Vice Chair Edwards presided at the meeting.)

I. Administration

A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 April meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The only change to the draft was a minor correction to the voting for one case. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the revised minutes.

B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 15 June, 20 July, and 21 September 2023. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August.

C. Anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, 17 May 1910, and the Shipstead-Luce Act, 16 May 1930. Secretary Luebke acknowledged the Commission’s two anniversaries falling in May: the 113th anniversary of the Commission’s establishment, and the 93rd anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act. He noted that the Commission’s other legislation for a major area of jurisdiction, the Old Georgetown Act, dates from the fall of 1950.

D. Report on the 2023 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Secretary Luebke reported that the applications have been processed and approved for local organizations participating in this year’s program, which has a legislative appropriation of $5 million to provide federal grants in support of arts institutions in Washington. The application process began in March, and the staff evaluated whether the applicants meet the numerous eligibility requirements. A total of 25 institutions were approved for grants; 24 of these were participants in the 2022 program, and the other institution is a returning participant from prior years. The eligibility of the applicants was confirmed by a panel consisting of the Commission’s Chair Tsien, as well as representatives of the chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. Luebke said the amount of each grant is determined by an established formula; the median for this year’s grants is approximately $171,000, which constitutes an average of 3.7 percent of the operating budget for the recipient institutions. He emphasized that the grants are not allocated to specific initiatives but instead provide operating support, which is especially difficult for institutions to obtain through other types of fundraising. He added that the Commission has been administering the program since the late 1980s.

Secretary Luebke reported that Vice Chair Edwards has been awarded a Radcliffe fellowship at Harvard University for the 2023–24 academic year, as part of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He noted that Dr. Edwards will be able to participate remotely in the Commission’s meetings while in residence at the university.

II. Submissions and Reviews

A. Appendices

Secretary Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.

Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Hart reported that no changes have been made to the draft consent calendar, which has six projects. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.

Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that one case listed on the draft appendix has been removed and is being held open for consideration in a future month (case number SL 23-099). Other revisions are limited to minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for two projects (SL 23-093 and SL 23-100) are listed as being subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. She noted that she has just been notified by one of these applicants—for signs at 670 Wharf Street, SW—that it will not comply with the Commission’s conditions, and the provisionally favorable recommendation will therefore be changed to recommend against the proposal. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix, including the additional intended change as described by Ms. Batcheler.

Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the only change to the draft appendix is to note the receipt of supplemental materials for one project; the appendix includes a total of 31 projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.

Mr. McCrery departed during the discussion of the following agenda item.

B. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

CFA 18/MAY/23-1, McMillan Sand Filtration Site Recreation and Community Center, North Capitol Street and Channing Street, NW. Revisions to final design for landscape and historic fountain. Revised final. (Previous: 17/SEP/20-7) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed revision to the previously approved final design for the landscape and fountain at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, a project that includes a park design and a community center building; the Commission gave final design approval for the landscape in June 2020 and for the community center in September 2020. The community center is located toward the eastern side of the site along North Capitol Street; the main revisions concern the landscape at the west side of the site along First Street, NW. The park was originally designed in 1905 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. [CFA member 1910–18]; the new landscape would preserve and reinterpret some elements of this design, including the tree-lined walkway known as the Olmsted Walk along the crest of the berms that define the site’s perimeter at the street edges.

Mr. Luebke said the project includes reconstruction of the historic McMillan Fountain, designed in 1912 by sculptor Herbert Adams [CFA member 1915–20]. The fountain was originally located on the west side of First Street at the terminus of Channing Street, as part of the informal landscape setting of the McMillan Reservoir; the fountain was set within a plaza elevated above the sidewalk grade. When the reservoir grounds were greatly altered in the 1930s, the fountain and its plaza were disassembled and stored for potential future use. The initial proposal, as approved in 2020, was to reconstruct the fountain at the northeast corner of First and Channing Streets, as a corner feature within the elevated reconstructed Olmsted Walk. After further review by the D.C. Department of Transportation, which manages the public right-of-way, the currently proposed revision is to place the fountain slightly to the north, alongside the Olmsted Walk and away from the park’s corner. The revision is intended to protect the root structure of a very large volunteer heritage elm tree at the corner of First and Channing Streets; the tree was previously proposed for removal but the current proposal is to retain it in accordance with local regulations. The current proposal includes several other revisions that are relatively minor: resizing of the exercise stations along the southern segment of the Olmsted Walk; adding more bioretention areas; and widening the sidewalk along North Capitol Street, with associated grading changes in the adjacent berm.

Mr. Luebke said the retention of the tree has raised numerous questions of historic preservation for the landscape design, with arguments for the best location for reconstructing the historic fountain. He noted that the fountain’s original setting on the west side of First Street cannot be recreated, while the options for the new location provide different opportunities to recapture the spirit of the historic design within the landscape. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO) has strongly supported the northward shift being presented today; as in the original setting, this location would be orthogonal to the street and sidewalk with a similar topographic relationship, and would allow for a distant view to the Washington Monument.

To begin the presentation, Mr. Luebke introduced Gilles Stucker, the director of strategic initiatives for the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). Mr. Stucker confirmed that the proposed revision to the fountain’s location is intended to comply with the D.C. law for the protection of heritage trees, with the proposal resulting from consultation with the staffs of the Commission and of the HPO. He asked landscape architect Elliot Rhodeside of Rhodeside & Harwell to present the design revisions.

Mr. Rhodeside summarized the features of the larger project, which include rehabilitation of the berms and the Olmsted Walk, reconstruction of the historic fountain, a new playground, a large multipurpose lawn, a new pedestrian entry to the site from North Capitol Street and improvements along this frontage, a new public plaza and community center on the eastern part of the site, and rehabilitation of the adjacent historic sand filtration silos. He said the proposed location change for the fountain reconstruction would preserve a heritage American elm tree and would more closely approximate the fountain’s original setting on the other side of First Street. He presented the approved site plan from 2020, with stairs leading diagonally down from the fountain and plaza, positioned on top of the southwest corner of the berm, to the sidewalk intersection at First and Channing Streets; he indicated the elm tree at the base of the berm along the sidewalk near the corner. He said the expectation in 2020 was that the proposed stairs and fountain could be installed without harm to the healthy tree, but further study has concluded that the diagonal stair alignment would have a significant impact on the tree’s critical root zone. The design team has therefore studied options for a different location for the stairs and fountain.

Mr. Rhodeside indicated the proposed fountain location, slightly more than 100 feet north of the previously approved location; the stairs would descend westward toward First Street, perpendicular to the sidewalk. The fountain would be positioned slightly east of the Olmsted Walk, set within an octagonal plaza resembling the historic design; the plaza would be flanked by small gathering areas to the north and south. The revised site plan also includes a new east–west concrete walk crossing the large lawn; this walk would connect the public plaza on the site’s eastern side with the Olmsted Walk on the west, and it would also provide access to the north end of the fountain’s new setting. The result would be to define an expansive lawn area centered on the fountain at its west end, bordered by the new east–west walk on the north and the Channing Street segment of the Olmsted Walk on the south.

Mr. Rhodeside presented the proposed fountain configuration in greater detail. Pedestrians ascending the stairs from the First Street sidewalk would cross the Olmsted Walk and then continue east to the octagonal plaza with the fountain at the center; the plaza would be surrounded by an evergreen hedge. Each of the gathering areas to the north and south would have a short access walk connecting to the Olmsted Walk along First Street on the west, as well as access from the octagonal plaza; the north area would have an additional connection north to the newly proposed east-west walk, and the south area would have an additional connection south to the Olmsted Walk along Channing Street.

Mr. Rhodeside described the guidance that was provided by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, which has collaborated in developing the proposed design. The goals include preserving the heritage tree at the corner; recreating the historic perpendicular relationship between the street and the fountain’s approach stairs; define a greensward leading to the fountain on the west, framed by the segment of the Olmsted Walk along Channing Street to the south and a new east–west walk to the north; and provide views to Washington’s monumental core and the Howard University campus. He noted that the relationship to First Street, as well as the long-distance views, would be better with the revised proposal than with the previous design; he presented photographs of the viewsheds looking southwest and west from the proposed fountain location, indicating the Washington Monument and the top of Howard’s Founders Library.

Mr. Rhodeside presented historic photographs and drawings to illustrate the original setting for the fountain, as well as the original configuration of trees framing the Olmsted Walk and additional plantings around the fountain and stairs. He indicated the original plaza’s perimeter hedge with walks connecting in the four cardinal directions. He noted that the length of the stair configuration would be shorter with the currently proposed orthogonal alignment, compared to the previously proposed diagonal alignment; he presented a section drawing to illustrate the view cone of a pedestrian along First Street looking up the stairs toward the fountain, with the upper part of the fountain being visible above the berm. He provided a comparison of the horizontal distance from the center of the fountain to the inner edge of the sidewalk at the foot of the stairs: 74 feet in the historic setting; 87 feet in the 2020 proposal; and 82.5 feet in the current proposal.

Mr. Rhodeside described the proposed materials and plantings, intended to be compatible with the historic fountain. The surface of the gathering areas would be crushed stabilized granite, using the same granite as the historic setting of the fountain; the edges of the gathering areas would be flush granite curbs. Tables and chairs would be provided in the gathering areas, with lighting bollards at the perimeter. Within the adjacent lawn, four American elm trees would be planted to the northeast and southeast of the fountain’s plaza, providing a sense of spatial framing for the ensemble of elements.

Mr. Rhodeside presented several other revisions to the site design for the larger project. Subsequent to the 2020 proposal, the soil has been studied further regarding its ability to absorb rainwater; the conclusion is that additional stormwater management techniques are needed. On the 2020 site plan, he indicated the five bioretention facilities within the public plaza on the eastern side of the site; the current proposal would supplement these with additional bioretention facilities at the playground, the northern part of the large lawn, and within the historic south service court. He described these additional locations as discreet and compatible, and he said they would reinforce the story of the site’s primary historic function involving water. Additionally, most of the impervious paving that was proposed in the 2020 site design would be changed to permeable paving. Another change is to the exercise stations to be built along the Olmsted Walk, previously proposed as three toward the south edge of the site along Channing Street, and one on the west edge along First Street; the current proposal is to make these areas slightly larger and to relocate the one exercise station from the west edge to the south edge.

Mr. Rhodeside concluded by describing the proposed changes to the site’s frontage on North Capitol Street. Subsequent to the 2020 design approval that maintained the existing seven-foot-wide sidewalk, the D.C. Department of Transportation has established new guidelines for this public space, mandating a minimum sidewalk width of fourteen feet including tree planting areas. The proposal is therefore to modify the design to meet the new standards, resulting in the need to adjust the profile of the adjacent berm; he presented plan and section drawings to illustrate the revision. He said the new design would be consistent with future streetscape development along North Capitol Street.

Secretary Luebke summarized a comment letter provided by David Maloney, head of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO), and he noted that Mr. Maloney is available in this meeting to answer questions. The letter notes that the proposal responds to the limitations presented by the heritage tree, while describing the situation as an opportunity for further reflection on the previous design and the historical documentation. The rethinking has resulted in the current proposal, which Mr. Maloney describes as being more successful than the corner siting of the fountain that was proposed in 2020; the new proposal would better evoke the design characteristics of the historic design, including the fountain’s relationship to the topography, the larger composition of axial walks, and the expansive views across the reservoir and toward central Washington. The letter describes the features of the proposed design that would recall the historic setting and give prominence to the fountain at its new location. The fountain’s plaza would serve as a belvedere, comparable to the original site overlooking the reservoir; the letter also notes that the view from the previously proposed corner location would be compromised by nearby row houses. The reduced distance from the fountain to the sidewalk is an additional advantage of the revised location, helping to achieve the historic effect of the fountain’s setting.

Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Complimenting the quality of the presentation, Mr. Stroik observed that the 2020 design had the advantage of providing a symmetrical placement of diagonal stairs ascending the berm at both of the larger site’s Channing Street corners—at First Street and at North Capitol Street. Additionally, the diagonal alignment of the stairs at First and Channing Streets related well to the fountain’s octagonal plaza layout. He also observed that the corner location from the 2020 design would be oriented to the southwest, an optimal direction for the view to the Washington Monument; this relationship would be weaker in the revised configuration for the fountain’s setting. He asked why these advantages have been set aside in bringing forward the revised design.

Mr. Rhodeside confirmed these observations, and he noted the additional advantage in the 2020 design of placing the fountain’s plaza directly within the Olmsted Walk sequence as a destination, rather than as a separate area alongside the Olmsted Walk in the current proposal. However, subsequent policies and regulations for the protection of heritage trees, along with more detailed study of the structural design to support the granite stairs and landings, have necessitated reconsideration of the 2020 design. He indicated the proximity of the stairs to the tree in the 2020 design, and he emphasized that even the most sensitively designed structural system would have a significant impact on the tree’s critical root zone. The initial response was to consider a revised alignment for the stairs, while keeping the corner location for the fountain; but further consideration, with the encouragement of the HPO staff, resulted in the proposal to move the fountain location to the north in order to achieve an approximate reconfiguration of its historic setting. The revised site also provides the opportunity to give the fountain added prominence by defining the large lawn panel to the east, centered on the fountain. He described the result as a more dynamic visual arrangement of new and historic elements that has emerged from a difficult but creative design reconsideration.

Mr. McCrery commented that the newly proposed fountain location is better than the location from the 2020 design, describing this as a happy outcome of the design process. More generally, he observed that most of the proposed revisions are intended to accommodate the existing program while responding to newly identified constraints, such as the health of the heritage tree, the soil’s capacity to absorb stormwater, or the best configuration of the exercise stations. However, the two proposed gathering spaces adjoining the fountain and plaza are a new design element that does not appear to respond to any newly identified issue, and he questioned why they are being added to the proposal. He discouraged the addition of these gathering areas, commenting that they would divert the public from the main feature of the fountain. He noted that the fountain’s plaza would include benches, as in the historic plaza design. He also requested clarification of whether barrier-free access would be provided between the sidewalks and the elevated Olmsted Walk, observing that the fountain would be an attractive destination.

Mr. Rhodeside responded that the barrier-free route from the sidewalk to the fountain would be to travel farther north along First Street to the south service court, which provides access to the Olmsted Walk through a gateway; Mr. McCrery agreed that this is a satisfactory solution within the context. Regarding the proposed gathering areas, Mr. Rhodeside said they would help to establish the location for the fountain and plaza within the generally undifferentiated length of the Olmsted Walk along First Street; this solution was developed after the merits emerged of locating the fountain along this edge of the site. He said that without the framing provided by the gathering areas, the fountain would still be centered on the greensward to the east, but this relationship would not provide sufficient spatial clarity if the areas north and south of the fountain were just further expanses of the green space. The gathering areas would address this design issue and would provide additional space for outdoor seating and dining. He said these areas are designed as a symmetrical pair without any surrounding vegetation, intended to be secondary in character to the fountain’s more formal plaza; they would also serve to tie the fountain composition to the larger site’s major walkways. He summarized that the gathering areas would help in achieving many of the desired design features, resulting in a significant ensemble that ties in with the larger context of the park while not having a negative impact on the fountain and plaza. He added that the proposed elms, in combination with the rows of trees lining the Olmsted Walk, would create a nice setting for this ensemble of spaces.

Ms. Delplace joined in expressing appreciation for the presentation, and she further acknowledged the respect that should be given to a living American elm. She said the revised location for the fountain seemed somewhat random at first, but she has come to agree that it works well within the larger context. She asked for clarification of pedestrian movements and the typical direction of arrival for people coming to the fountain. Mr. Rhodeside noted that the fountain is tall and would be readily visible along the length of the Olmsted Walk. A major entryway to the Olmsted Walk would be from the diagonal stairs at the southeast corner of the park, leading up from the corner of North Capitol and Channing Streets; the fountain would be visible to the west, and people would reach it by going west on the segment of the Olmsted Walk paralleling Channing Street. Another major entryway to the site would be along North Capitol Street, where an opening within the berm would lead to the public plaza and community center; he noted that the community center is under construction and looks beautiful. A ramp at the southwest corner of the community center would rise to the large greensward, along with the adjacent terrace and playground; the fountain would be visible across the greensward, and the newly proposed walk would lead west from the southwest corner of the playground, providing access to the fountain area and the segment of the Olmsted Walk along First Street. Another access route, convenient for residents living to the north, would be via a ramp leading from the south service court to the greensward. He summarized that numerous access routes, some of them barrier-free, are available for people to reach the park, and the fountain would be prominently visible from the park and from First Street.

Ms. Delplace questioned the proposed planting of four new American elms near the fountain, commenting that they would be too closely spaced in comparison to their massive mature size. While acknowledging other constraints on the site, she suggested positioning these trees in a more widely spaced configuration that would allow for their majestic canopies to provide an extraordinary terminus for the greensward.

Mr. Cook suggested further consideration of Mr. McCrery’s comments on the two gathering areas, particularly his concern that they would divert people away from the fountain’s plaza. He suggested addressing this issue by eliminating the short walks that are shown connecting the gathering areas to the Olmsted Walk on the west; this adjustment could allow more focus on the fountain. He suggested a typical circulation route of visitors ascending the stairs from First Street, crossing the Olmsted Walk to reach the fountain, and then exiting the plaza through one of the gathering areas. Mr. Rhodeside responded that the design team prefers to include these short walks to provide multiple circulation options within the logic of the design. He acknowledged that the multiple short walks extending east from the Olmsted Walk—one leading to the fountain’s plaza and two leading to the gathering areas—could be reduced to a single walk to reinforce the significance and grandeur of the fountain, but he said this change could result in practical difficulties such as people taking shortcuts across the grass to move between the gathering areas and the Olmsted Walk. Mr. Cook observed that the proposed connecting walk would remain between the south gathering area and the south segment of the Olmsted Walk along Channing Street, which may be the direction of approach for many people. He also observed that the proposed east–west walk would result in multiple ways to reach the north gathering area from the north, and he generally questioned whether so many separate routes are needed. Mr. Rhodeside offered to consider this issue further.

Mr. Stroik, citing the side-by-side plan comparisons, observed that the historic setting for the fountain treated the plaza as a special place within a linear walk system; the 2020 design similarly tied the plaza into the Olmsted Walk, but the currently proposed revision would treat the fountain and plaza as part of a secondary zone that is removed from the continuous circulation of the Olmsted Walk. He asked if the siting could be adjusted to position the plaza directly within the primary circulation provided by the Olmsted Walk. He commented that the addition of the gathering areas seems not to be beneficial, but their presence may be a lesser concern than the relationship of the fountain and plaza to the Olmsted Walk. He also asked whether the proposed grouping of four elm trees, particularly the two toward the middle, would block the relationship between the greensward and the fountain, which is intended to become a prominent element at the greensward’s western end in keeping with the Olmsted design tradition. He suggested consideration of repositioning or omitting the two trees toward the middle of the proposed grouping, observing that the planting plan provided more visibility for the fountain in both the historic plan and the 2020 design. Mr. Luebke asked if this concern includes potentially omitting the four trees along the Olmsted Walk that would frame the axial approach from the stairs to the fountain; Mr. Stroik said this could be an additional suggestion, observing that the earlier designs had a more open landscape treatment at the top of the stairs.

Mr. Rhodeside responded that he would consider the various comments on the siting of the four elm trees; he said the intent is that they would create a cathedral-like arched space framing the fountain, but perhaps they could be spaced slightly farther apart. More generally, he said the trees would be beneficial in developing the composition of elements in the new location for the fountain. As a precedent, he noted the trees alongside the stairs and around the plaza in historic photographs of the fountain’s original setting; he said the proposed shade trees east of the fountain would be consistent with this historic condition.

Regarding a more direct relationship of the fountain and plaza with the Olmsted Walk, Mr. Stroik clarified that the suggestion would be to reposition this segment of the Olmsted Walk approximately ten feet to the east so that it would align with the fountain and plaza. Mr. Rhodeside responded that this relationship was studied, but the conclusion was to retain the original alignment of the Olmsted Walk adjacent to the crest of the berm as an important part of the historic preservation of this feature. The Olmsted Walk would be reconstructed largely in its original location, size, and materiality; for the adjacent rows of trees, instead of the single type in the original design, the proposal is to plant three types of trees to avoid having a monoculture. He said another solution to address Mr. Stroik’s concern would be to move the fountain’s position west to be centered on the historic alignment of the Olmsted Walk; however, this would result in the need for a large wall to support the fountain at the top edge of the steeply sloping berm. Mr. Stroik acknowledged the effort to study these options and expressed regret that a solution could not be developed.

Vice Chair Edwards suggested framing a motion. Secretary Luebke said that the proposal is submitted as a revised final design, and he observed that the Commission members seem to be generally supporting the revised location for the fountain. He said if the Commission’s comments can be framed narrowly with items to be addressed with additional documentation, the Commission could approve the submission with conditions that could be addressed with the staff; more open-ended guidance may require a follow-up submission. He summarized the comments on potentially eliminating the walks leading west from the gathering areas, and potentially repositioning the elm trees proposed to the east of the fountain and gathering areas.

Mr. Stroik noted the additional suggestion to potentially eliminate the gathering areas or redesign them as simple walks; he noted that Mr. McCrery had supported this suggestion before departing the meeting. Mr. Moore observed that the fountain’s plaza would have only four benches, and the additional seating proposed in the adjacent gathering areas would be warranted; if the Commission recommends changing the gathering areas to become walks, he suggested that the walks should include benches with backs to provide additional seating. Mr. Stroik and Dr. Edwards supported this suggestion.

Secretary Luebke noted that the question remains of whether the Commission is recommending removal of the proposed gathering areas; the Commission could also convey this comment as an option to be considered. Ms. Delplace observed that the proposed gathering areas would provide the new amenity of a place for many people to occupy overlooking the lawn, as well as a more generous amount of seating in a more flexible configuration than would be provided by linear benches along a walk. She added that the proposed tables and chairs in the gathering areas could be used by a family having lunch, while this would be more difficult with only a line of benches. She expressed support for Mr. Cook’s suggestion to eliminate the two short walks on the west side of the gathering areas, agreeing that this modification would strengthen the importance of the axial connection from the stairs to the fountain across the Olmsted Walk; from the fountain’s plaza, visitors could choose whether to turn north or south into one of the gathering areas. She summarized her advice that the gathering areas and their seating should remain in the proposal, while some of the walks could be removed. She also clarified that she supports the proposal to add the four American elms, while questioning the closeness of their spacing in comparison to the desired legibility of their shape and size at maturity. She also noted that the existing heritage elm at the corner of the site would eventually be removed.

Noting the apparent consensus of advice, Vice Chair Edwards suggested taking an action. Ms. Delplace offered a motion to approve the revised final design, with the recommendations to eliminate the secondary walks leading west from the two gathering areas to the Olmsted Walk, and to study the spacing and alignment of the proposed American elms on the greensward near the fountain. Upon a second by Mr. Moore, the Commission adopted this action. Mr. Luebke said the staff would coordinate with the project team for the documentation of the recommended revisions. Mr. Rhodeside expressed appreciation for the advice, commenting that the recommendations will strengthen the design.

C. D.C. Department of General Services

CFA 18/MAY/23-2, Alice Deal Middle School, 3815 Fort Drive, NW. Construction of a new three-story addition and associated sitework. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for an addition to Alice Deal Middle School, submitted by the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) on behalf of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). The addition would provide the capacity to accommodate an additional 300 students. The school’s site, largely surrounded by the federal park of Fort Reno, is located within the Tenleytown neighborhood. He summarized the complex history of the park and neighborhood; Fort Reno had been constructed as a Civil War fortification, and a thriving Black neighborhood had existed in the area from the time of the Civil War until the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, under pressure from other residents along with real estate developers, the federal government acquired the land of the Black neighborhood by evicting the residents, creating the present-day park, which includes an underground reservoir and a Medieval Revival water tower from the early 20th century. The park is at the highest land elevation within Washington.

Mr. Luebke described the complicated evolution of the current school. Reno School, serving the area’s Black residents, was built on part of the site in 1903. Alice Deal Middle School, serving White students, was built to the southwest in 1936 and expanded in the later 1930s, then further expanded in the 1960s and subsequent decades; an addition in 2014 connected the Alice Deal complex with the older Reno School building. The current proposal is to construct a new addition on the site of eleven temporary classroom trailers; the program includes classrooms, expanded cafeteria space, and associated support space. The proposed massing would approximately align with the existing cafeteria on the north side of the complex, flanking an existing courtyard and existing views north toward the park. The proposed exterior materials include brick, glass, and metal panels, with a two-story projecting bay at the addition’s northeast corner.

Mr. Luebke asked project manager Patrick Moloney of DGS to begin the presentation. Mr. Moloney emphasized the short timeline for the project, which is scheduled for completion in August 2024. He said the addition would accommodate the students who are currently using the trailers on the site. He introduced architects Paola Moya and Marisa King of Moya Design Partners to present the proposal.

Ms. King provided an overview of the school’s evolution, context, and existing conditions. The school site is set within National Park Service parkland, providing a context of extensive open space. The Colonial Revival-style 1930s building faces south onto Fort Drive, providing a formal main entrance to the school. The later additions are to the north, extending northeast to connect with the former Reno School building; the additions face onto the playing field to the north, used by both the school and the community. She indicated the location of the temporary trailers to the northwest, which would be removed to accommodate the proposed addition; she said this more permanent structure is necessary because the high enrollment is projected to be permanent, not a temporary influx of students.

Ms. King presented an aerial photograph to identify the sequence of buildings and additions that comprise the current school complex. She indicated the three-story main building from the 1930s; the gymnasium to the northeast from 2008; the gallery and cafeteria addition along the north side of the 1930s building; and the numerous temporary trailers that have “inundated” the north side of the complex along the playing field, a condition that would be improved by the proposed addition. She presented the existing floorplans, indicating the double-height auditorium at the center of the 1930s building and the complicated layout that has resulted from the later additions. She then presented an aerial perspective from the northwest, illustrating how the additions partially define a courtyard space along the edge of the playing field; the new addition would strengthen the western edge of this courtyard. She indicated the existing gallery addition along the courtyard, centered on the main axis of the 1930s building and extending the hierarchy of the school’s primary south facade; she said that students use the gallery for access to the courtyard and playing field. An existing covered walkway extends north from the gallery’s western exit, paralleling the east side of the cafeteria addition, to provide exterior access to the classroom trailers; the addition, replacing the trailers, would abut the cafeteria and would have exterior access via the covered walkway. She added that the numerous additions have used a variety of exterior materials and design vocabularies, and a goal of the current project is to strengthen the courtyard as a unifying space that will be the heart of the school, used by students as a gathering and play space. She said the sense of unity would be achieved through the relationship of materials, datum lines, and design gestures; she indicated the existing datum line approximately ten feet above grade.

To present the proposed design, Ms. King introduced Eric Joerdens of Ashley McGraw Architects, a part of the design team. Mr. Joerdens said the program for the addition includes twelve general classrooms, two science classrooms, and associated storage space, along with resource rooms for breakout learning and group study. Additional components include expanded space for the adjacent cafeteria, two offices, and restrooms. The proposed massing is intended to improve the connection between the courtyard and the playing field, and to improve the legibility of the building masses as seen from the playing field. He indicated the existing area of the trailers, which extend westward across nearly the entire length of the cafeteria addition and also eastward to block the pedestrian connection between the gallery’s western exit and the playing field. Direct access to the field is currently provided only via the gallery’s eastern exit, which can result in congestion from students entering and exiting during recess times. The proposed massing would more closely align with the eastern edge of the existing cafeteria, providing a more unified definition of the courtyard space. He presented a site plan illustrating the addition’s footprint, the improved courtyard configuration with programmatic areas, the exterior entrance connecting to the existing covered walkway, and the site walkways that would provide barrier-free connections to the courtyard and playing field.

Mr. Joerdens presented the proposed floorplans. The addition would have three stories, with four general classrooms along the north side of each floor; to the south would be expanded cafeteria space on the ground floor, connecting to the existing cafeteria, and a science classroom on each of the two upper floors. He noted that the classrooms would benefit from views toward the playing field to the north, the parkland to the west, and the school complex extending to the northeast. The addition’s ground-floor lobby would have an interior connection to the existing cafeteria, and the flat green roof would be below the top of the sloped roof on the 1930s building.

Ms. King presented the proposed elevations, comparing them to the facades of the existing additions that face the courtyard and playing field. She indicated the relationship of the Reno School building to the recent addition that connects it to the Alice Deal School complex; this addition forms much of the existing frontage along the courtyard, and its double-height windows have influenced the facade organization of the proposed addition in order to create a sense of unifying features around the courtyard. The two-story height around much of the courtyard provides a consistent upper datum line height that would be extended across the proposed three-story facades, helping to relate the taller new volume to the existing architecture. The rhythm of the proposed windows is derived from the existing windows of the gallery, cafeteria, and gymnasium additions, including the width of the windows and the spacing between them. The proposed materials would similarly relate to the existing additions around the courtyard.

Ms. Moya summarized the design intention as humbly blending in with the context of numerous past additions, rather than giving prominence to the new addition. She emphasized the need for a compact footprint and a connection to the existing cafeteria, resulting in the selected location for the addition. She described the courtyard as an important element that is not currently as active as it could be, and the addition’s location allows for strengthening the courtyard’s design. More generally, the location allows for the addition to have a sense of openness to the site and landscape. She said that efficiency of design, including spatial configuration and the selection of materials, is another important consideration for this public project. The emphasis on north-facing classroom windows would allow for plentiful daylight without the need for solar shading. The double-height windows and the materials of metal and brick would help to unify the courtyard, and the addition’s configuration would allow the existing gallery to be more easily seen from the playing field. The existing covered walkway’s canopy would be repainted and continue in use, and the new canopy connecting to it would identify the main entrance to the addition. She concluded with perspective views of the proposed addition as seen from the southeast and northeast.

Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Delplace asked for clarification of the internal circulation for the school complex, questioning the reliance on external access for the proposed addition. Mr. Joerdens said the interior gallery provides connections to the courtyard on the north through two projecting pavilions; the gallery transitions on the east to the corridor extending northeast toward the gymnasium and the Reno School building, while on the west the gallery connects to the cafeteria. The addition would have its own corridor circulation on each level along the south edge of the classrooms; south-facing windows would provide daylight along the western part of each corridor.

Ms. Delplace questioned whether the relationship of the existing and proposed fenestration is sufficiently strong, and she asked for clarification of the design intent. She also observed that the proposed brick would introduce a new material along the courtyard, adding to the visual chaos of the existing variety of materials, and she asked for clarification of the reason for selecting the brick. Ms. Moya responded that the proposed window proportions are derived from the existing tall windows of the gallery; the addition would have two types of spacing rhythms between the windows, and she said the result would have a cohesive appearance from a general similarity of design while not matching exactly. She said design continuity is also provided by the more solid treatment of the base, with a lighter appearance above. She noted that the proposed gray metal panels would match the color of the panels in one of the existing additions; other proposed colors are similarly based on existing materials, particularly at the adjacent cafeteria, with an emphasis on choosing the lighter colors from the wide-ranging existing palette. Ms. Delplace commented that the existing facades were clearly presented, but the appearance of the proposed facades and materials are not illustrated well, resulting in difficulties in evaluating how the new addition would relate to the context. Ms. Moya emphasized the variety of color relationships on the facades of the existing additions; she offered to provide the Commission with more photographs and composite elevations. Ms. Delplace said this would be helpful; she observed that the proposed facades seem generally complementary to the existing architecture but may not be sufficient to pull together the complicated context.

Mr. Moore expressed support for Ms. Delplace’s comments, observing that the presentation should at least provide a complete elevation of the proposed conditions—including materials as well as fenestration patterns—in order to understand the project within the context. More generally, he observed that the school has repeatedly grown within its site, and the city’s needs may result in further growth in the future. While acknowledging that the current proposal has a relatively small footprint and scope, he asked about long-term planning for the site, such as the potential need for more additions and whether this project’s design could become problematic for the school’s future planning. Mr. Moloney responded that the scope of the current project is to move students from the existing trailers to a permanent building; longer-term planning has not yet been addressed. Mr. Moore criticized this as not a responsible way to approach public infrastructure; while the current need should of course be addressed, he emphasized that some consideration of the site’s future should be part of the project’s scope. He suggested studying how the limited footprint for the proposed classrooms might relate to additional needs in the future; this information would be helpful for evaluating the proposed design.

Mr. Moloney offered to return with more information; he added that the scope includes site improvements, and he observed that the site is running out of space for future additions. He noted the skill of the design team in minimizing the impact of the current proposal on the overall school complex, keeping the project’s focus on the identified program. He said the three-story configuration reduces the project’s footprint and allows the historic architecture to remain visible from the courtyard; he noted that earlier design studies, which were discussed with the staff, had shown the addition encroaching farther into the courtyard. He emphasized that the current proposal responds to much of the staff-level design guidance and addresses the near-term programmatic needs with minimal intrusion on the site. He added that the playing field is important to both the school and the community; the proposal will improve the site design while providing permanent classroom facilities and improving the site design.

Mr. Stroik expressed support for his colleagues’ comments. He acknowledged the challenge of designing a new addition within the context of multiple previous additions of varied styles; he agreed that long-term planning for the school complex would be of interest, while observing that the proposed addition may need to be the last. He asked about the student population; Mr. Joerdens said the school has approximately 1,700 students, which Mr. Stroik observed is very large for a middle school. He added that one purpose of a long-range plan could be to identify a unifying architectural approach to improve on the cacophonous existing character; the planning could include a goal of redesigning the entire courtyard to create a coherent “outdoor room.” He acknowledged that unifying the complicated context through the relatively small current addition may not be feasible.

Ms. Moya said the design team had initially identified the landscape as an important feature for the students, and providing connectivity is a key issue. Responding to earlier comments, she noted that the presentation includes a continuous elevation along the courtyard; however, this drawing is not in color, and it is drawn at a very small scale due to the length of the elevation. She offered to develop this elevation in color and with improved legibility. Ms. King noted that this drawing includes both the north and east facades of the proposed addition, giving a more holistic sense of the design within the context. Mr. Moore observed that the use of punched window openings appears confusing, possibly introducing yet another unrelated facade design along the courtyard; he reiterated the importance of providing legible composite elevations to assist in evaluating the success of the design, and he said the submitted information is inadequate.

Mr. Cook joined in expressing concern about the proposal and acknowledging the challenges of the context. He agreed that longer-term planning is a critical need, observing that in a few years, another design team may be facing the same issues in developing a proposal for another addition. Regarding the specifics of the current proposal, he commented that the facade proportions require further study. He questioned the shift in the massing at the corner of the two upper levels, which he said introduces an unnecessary element within the complicated context. He also agreed that the brick color should be considered further.

Dr. Edwards supported the comments that have been provided, including the desirability of planning in advance for potential future additions to address increasing enrollment. She asked for clarification of access to the proposed addition. Ms. King confirmed that the main entrance would be from the exterior; students would exit the school complex through the gallery and use the covered exterior walkway to enter at the east side of the proposed addition. Secondary access would be available through a doorway connecting the addition to the existing cafeteria, which is currently being used to capacity. She said the design team has had extensive discussions with DGS and DCPS about the best option for providing access, with consideration of the project’s budget; the resulting decision is to provide an exterior connection for the current design. Dr. Edwards asked about enclosing the walkway; Ms. King confirmed that this is infeasible within the budget. She added that the proposed expansion of the cafeteria would provide slightly more capacity than required, and a potential future project could be to create an interior corridor along the edge of the cafeteria that would provide interior access to the new addition. She noted that the current scope does not allow the design team to address future projects in greater depth. Mr. Moloney emphasized the constrained budget for this project, which is intended only to move students from the temporary trailers to a permanent building. He noted that the proposal relies on the existing covered walkway that is already being used by students to provide exterior access between the gallery and the temporary trailers.

Dr. Edwards asked about the potential for creating outdoor teaching spaces, as suggested in Mr. Stroik’s comments, which could occur on any side of the addition, particularly on the south side adjacent to the existing and expanded cafeteria space. Ms. King responded that this idea was explored extensively, especially along the western classroom and resource room on the addition’s ground floor. However, the response from school officials was that this area would be difficult to supervise; an outdoor classroom on the west side could become a security concern. The focus instead has been on developing the central courtyard space to the east of the addition so that it can accommodate gatherings of smaller or larger groups.

Vice Chair Edwards asked if a motion would be appropriate. Secretary Luebke observed that the Commission members have questioned the lack of planning and the unpersuasive presentation of the architecture; the Commission may therefore not be intending to approve the concept, and no action would be needed. He noted that the project has advanced considerably during the staff consultation process, and the staff has repeatedly raised the issue of relying on exterior access to the addition. Ms. Delplace said the Commission should have the opportunity to see the additional documentation that has been requested, particularly about the addition’s articulation and a more legible depiction of a composite elevation that illustrates the facade materials along the courtyard. She added that the exterior access seems odd, especially for a school that seems to have concerns about security. She also cited Mr. Moore’s request for a longer-range vision to address future expansion; she observed that the need for such planning has become apparent from the many school projects that the Commission has reviewed.

The other Commission members expressed agreement with Ms. Delplace’s summary. Vice Chair Edwards summarized the consensus of the Commission to provide comments while not approving the concept submission. Mr. Luebke confirmed that the staff would convey the Commission’s comments in writing, and that no action is needed. Ms. Delplace expressed appreciation for the well-organized presentation, noting that it just needs to go further. Mr. Moore emphasized that the project presents a challenging problem that requires some challenging work. The discussion concluded without a formal action.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.


Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA