But the 76,000-square-foot, five-story facility is coming in about $1 million under its $36 million budget, said George May, the county employee in charge of the center’s construction, as he led a tour of the center Monday.
“It was a huge effort ... a long project, it’s fair to say,” said J. Walter Tejada, Arlington County Board chairman. “This is a big deal. This is an anchor in an area that’s very diverse... It really means a lot to the community.”
The center is one of the important pieces in Arlington’s plan to turn Columbia Pike into a walkable, neighborhood-oriented Main Street. Utilities are being replaced, better lighting and sidewalks are going in and a streetcar line is planned. Last year, a major housing plan was approved which will increase density in the area but will retain the 6,000 affordable housing units that now define the area.
The sturdy construction and energy-efficient windows in the community center means that cell phones can’t get a signal in the building, but May said that will be corrected shortly. Residents can use wi-fi connections to the Internet in the building, and first responders will find a new robust location for emergency communications. The structure can be used for an emergency county shelter during disasters with the addition of a new generator.
One amenity the community insisted upon, Tejada said, was an outoor plaza where events, concerts and dances could be held. It’s right at the front of the building, along Columbia Pike at Dinwiddie Street and adjacent to a small playground for preschoolers. A Capital Bikeshare station will soon be installed on the other side of the permeable stone surface, convenient for trips on the nearby Four Mile Run recreational trail.
A wide variety of community groups, which have been dispersed to several other county and private venues, are ready to use the building, officials said. Fitness and folklore groups, English as a Second Language and citizenship classes, arts clubs and job training organizations have signed up to use the rooms. Northern Virginia Family Services will run an early Head Start program not too far from where senior citizens will gather for activities. Tiny child-height sinks and toilets are in the restrooms next to the pre-kindergarten rooms; a large commercial-grade kitchen is equipped to prepare meals for any group. The fourth floor is empty, ready for whatever needs arise.