We look to our elected and appointed officials to support our communities and to work to improve the lives of all our citizens, including our children, our seniors, young graduates, recent arrivals to our country and even the most disadvantaged among us. Two institutions in Reston epitomize this sense of caring and hope for the future - the Reston Regional Library and the Embry Rucker Homeless Shelter. How can it be then, that our elected and appointed officials are working to physically tear down both of these institutions with no announced plans to replace them, leaving the residents of this region poorer both in education and in spirit?
The County recently announced its intention to redevelop an extensive area in North Reston. This area is divided into eight sections. Six of the sections have little or nothing of significance in them. Two contain the Library and the Shelter. Guess which two the County wants to bulldoze?
The County proposes to turn this land over to a "Public/Private Partnership" to redevelop into commercial, retail and residential high rises, and "public facilities". They have said repeatedly the "public facilities" MAY include a new library and shelter in the mix if the developer chooses to do so. Or they may not. And the County does not guarantee any replacement will be of the same size or offer the same services, much less anything better.
The County is approaching this backwards. Their first priority should be to serve their constituents. In 2012 the citizens of Fairfax County approved a $10 million bond specifically to either build a new regional library in Reston or to significantly expand and improve the current facility in keeping with our population growth. Three years later they have done nothing.
Given the County's actions with respect to our libraries in recent years - the massive destruction of books, particularly children's books, the cutback on hours of operation and repeated attempts to downgrade the professional qualifications of our librarians - a certain skepticism is prudent. But the County has an opportunity to restore confidence in its commitment to the public:
First, in the case of the library, by publicly stating what their plans are - three years after the bond passed - on remodeling or replacing existing facilities.
Second, by confirming the will of the electorate that any new library structure will be of greater size than the current facility with a full book collection and at least the same number of dedicated parking spaces as well as improvements that will make it a viable library in a community whose population and employment the County projects will double in a quarter century.
And third, by doing what should have been done years ago and establishing a Citizens Task Force to be involved in all phases of the planning process. Oh, and any new structures should be built before the old ones are demolished. This is what was done with the new and old North County Government Centers and it makes a lot of sense.
There is no reason we have to destroy the best parts of us just for the sake of a few dollars of new tax revenue for the County. After all, revenue for the County is supposed to be used to support the citizens of Fairfax - like by having a library people want and use and a homeless shelter to catch those who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
Ambassador Dennis K. Hays (ret.)
Chairman, Fairfax Library Advocates