For a half century Sterling residents have converged on a small corner of their community for a variety of government services. Today, county supervisors are wrestling with how to modernize and expand the facilities—the Sterling Volunteer Fire-Rescue Station, Sterling Library, Sterling Community Center and a park—in that same small space.
Supervisors will delve deeper into the construction options during their review of the proposed Capital Improvement Program Feb. 26.
That action will bring full circle the direction of the Board of Supervisors during last year’s CIP discussion, when it voted to pull the funding for the Sterling Library replacement and instead directed the county staff examine the needs of the entire public service complex.
After a year of work by the county staff and consultant Moseley Architects, supervisors have two options to consider.
Both would see the Sterling Library moving from its existing 6,000 square feet in the building it shares with the community center and into leased space. The library will need 15,000 square feet, which is available in the nearby shopping center. At that size, the library would not require additional staffing, but Library Director Chang Liu said it would allow for other improvements.
“Because of the location, the visibility of library is very low. With only 6,000 square feet, there are a lot of things we are doing at other libraries we cannot transfer because we don’t have the space,” she said. That includes some efficiencies and best practices, Liu told supervisors.
Even beyond that, she said the need for additional services is clear. “In FY12 people checked out 200,000 items. At Cascades that number was 1 million, but Cascades is five times bigger. We have seen noticeable increases in attendance in programming in last five years…by more than 30 percent. The Wi-Fi use has increased during past year by 41 percent. The people visit numbers have really gone up. And we could do so much more if we have more space,” Liu said.
According to the county staff, it would cost between $3.375 million and $3.8 million to build out 15,000 square feet and it would cost about $300,000 to $400,000 annually to operating the leased space.
If the library is moved, the community center could expand to fill the entire building, which the county’s capital construction staff members said would meet the needs of the community center.
One hurdle is a requirement within the county’s Zoning Ordinance. If the entire building were to become a community center, it would require 328 parking spaces. The property can accommodate only 168 spaces. To meet the requirements of the ordinance a parking structure would be needed, which county staff estimates to cost between $7.5 million and $9.5 million.
That number set supervisors back, questioning why that would even be considered a recommendation by staff. It is not, Capital Division Manager Paul Brown told them, and that if the projects moved forward the county would be asking for waivers to that Zoning Ordinance requirement. The goal of presenting it was simply to “frame the problem.”
In November 2007, voters approved $13.5 million in general obligation bond issue to renovate five community centers. Of that, $2 million was reserved for the Sterling Community Center.
By far the biggest differences between the two options involde the Sterling Volunteer Fire-Rescue Company the requirement for a new apparatus bay.
Since the Sterling station was built in the 1970s the size of fire engines and ambulances has grown. One of the areas of most concern is with the fire-rescue apparatus and the apparatus bay. Things like the water tank capacity for a fire truck has increased over time, ladder trucks expanded to reach the tops of taller buildings and more equipment is needed than in years past. Even the exhaust system requirements have required the ambulance size to be increased. As recently as 2004, the maximum width of an ambulance was 91 inches, but now with wider frames they are at least 101 inches wide. That leaves little space between equipment for firefighters and EMTs to maneuver and makes for difficult entrances and exits from the bay. A 1990 renovation expanded the stationhouse to the limits of the property.
In the first option, the county would acquire a neighboring auto service station to provide expansion room and more parking spaces.
In the second option, the fire-rescue station would be expanded on the existing site, but the parking would be moved to a park area next door. The county would build a replacement playground and park area between the safety center and the community center, where the safety center parking is now.
County staff members supported the first option because it does not require destruction of the existing park area and mature trees, supervisors noted there was one large question mark with that plan: the cost of acquiring the auto station property.
“Without understanding those dollars, I don’t know how we look at the whole picture,” Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said. “It doesn’t have to be a full number, but you have to give us an idea.”
Brown said there have been initial discussions with the property owner, but said there was a limit to how much detail staff members could go into without direction from the Board of Supervisors.
Buona raised concerns that the referendum in 2007 has about $3.5 million for a renovation to the public safety center, but a complete replacement would cost closer to $10 million—in either scenario.
“Essentially the difference between renovation and construction is $6 million,” he said. “To hang on to little piece of park land is going to cost us $6 million more.” He noted that does not include the acquisition of the service station in Option 1.
Staff members said that renovation was not a viable option given the needs of the volunteer company.
“It is a very constrained area and there are some serious exceptions the county has to take into account because of the nature of the location and the geography there,” Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said.
Supervisors seemed in agreement that the new facility was needed, and noted the importance of not just focusing on the needs of new communities.
“We have a lot of new facilities in the county. But it is important to take care of the old ones and make sure the services are equitable across the county,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said.