McLean Community Center

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th) enter the newly renovated McLean Community Center for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of construction.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion of construction on the newly renovated McLean Community Center did not get off to the most promising start.

When MCC executive director George Sachs approached a podium in the facility’s community hall to start the ceremony, he was greeted by a malfunctioning microphone that seemed to almost swallow sound instead of amplifying it.

After staff spent a few minutes testing the room’s audio system to see what the problem was, Sachs eventually received a different, working microphone, and only then did the gathered crowd of MCC staff, board members, public officials, and other invited guests settle down.

Fortunately, that initial hiccup appeared to be the only issue in a ceremony that ran as smoothly as the renovation being celebrated.

While it was not completely free of the complications and frustrations that come with any major construction project, the $8 million renovation of the McLean Community Center’s Ingleside Avenue facility largely unfolded as expected, ultimately coming in roughly on time and under budget, according to officials and staff involved with the undertaking.

“I wanted to see [visitors’] reaction to the “wow” factor of the changes that we made,” Sachs said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I’m seeing it, and it’s a wonderful reception of people to realize the efforts that took us to get to this point and then to get it completed.”

First opened in 1975, the McLean Community Center serves as a civic, social, and cultural hub for the surrounding Greater McLean area, whose residents pay a real estate tax surcharge that funded the facility’s original construction and continues to support its annual operating costs.

In addition to hosting classes and meetings for community and civic organizations, including the McLean Citizens Association, the community center is home to the Robert Ames Alden Theater, a venue for performing arts events, and exhibition galleries for the McLean Project for the Arts.

The MCC also sponsors outside events, such as the annual McLean Day at Lewinsville Park and 4th of July fireworks at Churchill Road Elementary School.

The MCC’s governing board and professional staff started contemplating a facility renovation around the beginning of this decade, but it was not until after they completed a feasibility study five years ago with the help of Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services staff that the project genuinely started to take shape.

The organization hired the firm RRMM-Lukmire Architects to design the renovation, and an approximately $5 million contract for the actual building was awarded to Sorenson Gross Construction Services.

With tax rates increasing over the preceding decade, the MCC had accumulated enough of a capital funding reserve to fund the entire renovation project.

Since the project did not use up the entirety of its allotted $8 million, remaining funds will be used to ensure contingency funding, upgrade equipment, and pay for other capital projects, such as improvements to The Old Firehouse that MCC has leased as a satellite facility for its teen center, according to MCC Board Chair Paul Kohlenberger.

MCC facilities director Joe McGovern says personnel changes on the governing board prolonged the project’s planning process, so officials did not break ground for the renovation until Mar. 22, 2017, and construction began on Apr. 3.

During construction, MCC administrative offices and classrooms were relocated to the Century 21 New Millennium building on Old Dominion Road, while other events, including performing arts programs, moved to other venues in the surrounding community.

The construction phase of the project is now complete after a little under two years, though Sachs says final touches to the new facility, including bringing in upgraded furnishings and décor, still have to be addressed.

The newly renovated McLean Community Center will open to the public with a community open house from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Jan. 5. Visitors will be able to tour the facility, participate in class demonstrations, and learn about upcoming programs and events.

“We’re really excited to move back in to use all this new space and excited to see the community and their reaction to getting back,” McGovern said. “So many people in the community use this space, whether they’re civic meetings or birthday parties or taking classes, so I think everyone’s going to be really excited to get back in here.”

The community center renovation was necessitated in part to address maintenance and safety issues.

The site now has improved storm water management facilities, including filters that help take in and filter runoff, and lighting along the exterior walkways and in the parking lot was enhanced.

Welcomed by a refurbished entryway, community center visitors encounter a more expansive lobby with higher ceilings that permit more natural lighting to come in through the room’s windows and provide better views of nearby meeting rooms.

While the Alden Theater was left untouched, a new staircase and balcony overlooking the lobby makes the building’s second floor appear more inviting, and a control desk that will be staffed by a receptionist and MCC’s registrar has been added.

Other improvements include the consolidation of MCC administrative offices, the addition of more restrooms, new security and public address systems, and facility upgrades that get the building in line with current building code and Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

In addition to renovating the existing 33,000 square-foot building, the project introduced a 7,700 square-foot addition with two new meeting rooms and a new multipurpose room.

“The additions are enhancements for this community,” Sachs said. “It allows more space for larger groups to use [and] more meeting room space for people to come and have their group meetings. That’s what this community has been asking for, and that’s what we’re providing.”

Thanks to a “substantial” donation from Bobby and Gloria Maria Federigan, who have lived in McLean for more than 40 years, the McLean Community Center now boasts an encircled outdoor courtyard positioned in the middle of the building, though that particular part of the renovation has not yet been completed.

“Our children had a wonderful time growing up in this building,” Bobby Federigan said when asked why he and his wife wanted to contribute financially to create the courtyard.

The community center’s new configuration with an open space in the center of the building was actually part of the original concept for the facility, according to Mary Anne Hampton, one of MCC’s first staff members.

Hampton was the second person ever hired by MCC, preceded only by the first executive director, Page Shelp, and she worked at the community center for 33 years before retiring in 2008.

“I think they’ve done an absolutely outstanding job with the renovation and the addition,” Hampton said. “I love the openness and the light, and I think that these rooms will function in so many ways…It’s just been wonderful to see the center grow over the years to accommodate the interest in the community center by the public.”

Hampton’s only disappointment is that Shelp was unable to attend the renovation ribbon-cutting ceremony due to health issues.

“I think it’s a real testament to the early vision of our executive director, which was Page Shelp,” Hampton said. “She is the one that set a very high bar for everything that we did, and I think her commitment and her dedication in those 25 years is what sustains everything today.”

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