A Sept. 4 Apartment Living article about Congressional Towers in Rockville contained several errors. The complex is undergoing its third renovation, not its first. That renovation will cost an estimated $30 million, not $20 million. The social worker who visits regularly works with Community Partners, a local alliance of nonprofit groups, not the city of Rockville. The complex's four pools are similar, not identical, and there is a single fitness center, not one in each building. (Published 9/10/04)
When Lewis Kraft retired from his government job five years ago, he wasn't sure how he would occupy his time. But Kraft, 54, has found plenty to keep himself busy at the Congressional Towers apartments in Rockville, where he and his wife have lived for about 14 years.
"They call me the mayor," he said. "I'm usually in the lobby meeting and greeting. I'm a multi-service resource person."
Kraft and other longtime residents help make the 610-unit Congressional Towers a welcoming place. Residents include senior citizens who have lived there since the complex opened in 1963, immigrants working at the National Institutes of Health, recent college graduates looking for a place close to Metro's Red Line and young families seeking a good school district.
The four buildings of Congressional Towers sit on 52 acres, with four swimming pools, a sundeck and a volleyball court. Floor plans include standard one- and two-bedroom apartments, apartments with balconies and corner apartments. The building offers standard 12-month and six-month leases but is willing to accommodate residents with shorter lease requirements.
The complex is in the midst of the first major renovation in its 41 years. Every apartment is to eventually have new cabinets, wall-to-wall carpet, gooseneck faucets, white bathroom tile, appliances, doors and blinds. "We're basically gutting them and starting over," said Jackie St. Andrie, the building's residential portfolio manager.
Renovations to the complex will cost about $20 million, including about $15,000 for work on each unit. Apartments are being renovated as they turn over, and current residents have the option of moving into a renovated apartment at the end of their lease.
This month, updates to the pools will begin. The four existing identical outdoor pools will be given different focuses, including a mini-water park with water jets and river rafting, a baby pool and a lap pool.
The complex's owners also plan to build a fitness center that will have a full-time trainer. The center will include dividable meeting rooms, which could be rented out for engagement parties or bar mitzvahs. The facilities are scheduled to open by the end of May 2005.
Parking is included in rent, as are utilities. Building management sends cards to residents on their birthdays and hosted a sock hop last fall. (Kraft served as the deejay.) Each building has a small fitness center, and the complex has maintenance crews on duty 24 hours a day. "If anything breaks, they're here in 10 minutes," Kraft said.
The complex overlooks Woodmont Country Club, and about half of the residents have views of a rolling, green golf course, even though they live right off Rockville Pike. Teresa Astle, who moved into the building with her husband in 1967, particularly appreciates the view from the kitchen in her corner apartment. "One thing I love is having a window kitchen," she said. "You can see birds and deer -- a little bit of nature."
In April, cherry blossoms bloom in front of the buildings. Kraft recalled one year when the building management threw a cherry blossom party, complete with cherry pie.
"It's a sea of pink," he said. "You can skip going downtown and just walk out the front door."
The building is served by numerous public transportation options. The Twinbrook Metro stop is a 10- to 15-minute walk away, and several Montgomery County Ride On buses stop in front of the complex. For the building's senior citizens, the city of Rockville provides a bus that makes stops at grocery stores, convenience stores, malls and the Rockville Senior Center.
Building management also tries to monitor senior citizens. "People moved here as adults in 1963," St. Andrie said. "Thirty years later, we have an aging senior population."
Property Manager Marianne Pukal checks in on each of them once a week, and the building has partnered with the city to have a social worker visit twice a week. Building employees also host occasional discussion groups for residents home during the day.
For Thelma Frank, 80, who has lived in the building since the early 1980s, the senior bus is a lifesaver.
"I can't drive, so I would really be up the creek without a paddle without it," she said. Frank also uses Metro Access for transportation to her ceramics class at a local community center. Every year she makes ceramic gifts for the employees of Congressional Towers, such as Christmas tree ornaments.
When Frank moved into the building, one of the biggest selling points was the size of the apartments. Even the smallest one-bedrooms are 820 square feet, and the largest two-bedrooms are 1,025 square feet. "The first time people came to see me, they were amazed at how large a one-bedroom apartment was," she said. "It was much larger than most places."
Frank and other longtime residents have witnessed the transformation of Rockville Pike into one of the area's busiest shopping districts. Residents are within easy walking distance of Congressional Plaza, which contains a Whole Fields Market and a Gap, and are within a few minutes' driving distance of White Flint and Montgomery malls. For the most part, the changes are welcome.
"It used to be very quiet and nice, but I like it the way it is now," Astle said. "It offers a lot more."