PARKS:

$700M National Mall plan emphasizes water, energy conservation

The National Park Service released final plans yesterday for a makeover of the National Mall in Washington that includes new buildings, landscaping and a number of measures aimed at conserving energy and water.

The $700 million plan is aimed at guiding long-term management of the mall, a 2-mile-long swath of lawns and walking paths that link the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and serve as the front yard to some of the nation's most famous and most heavily visited museums and monuments.

Sustainability is a theme for the plan, which includes measures for reducing water use at the Reflecting Pool, which has been described as a "giant bathtub" between the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial. Park Service spokesman Bill Line said the agency is proposing replumbing the pool with a system that would circulate, filter and recycle water to ease the strain on the District of Columbia's water supply.

"The water heats up during the summer months, and when it gets combined with duck and goose droppings, leaves and other debris, it can get pretty unpleasant," Line said. "We want to keep that water moving."

The service is also planning to include energy-efficiency measures on any new buildings on the mall and will attempt to win the highest-possible rankings for those structures, Line said.

The sustainability measures are part of the final environmental impact statement on the mall's renovation. The statement, which was released yesterday, caps four years planning for the renovation.

Before work can begin, the service needs the approval of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who issued a statement yesterday praising the plan. He is expected to finalize it within 30 days.

Planned in 1791, the National Mall has started showing its age with buildings falling into disrepair and its lawns browning.

"Much of the mall was not designed for the level of use it receives. They couldn't have imagined what it would become," said Susan Spain, the Park Service's mall project executive. "It wasn't designed for this much traffic. It wasn't really designed to be taken care of well."

The National Mall hosts 24 million visitors annually, including 10 million from overseas, the service says.

To accommodate larger crowds, the service is proposing to spend $450 million for renovations and up to $250 million for new construction.

Among the proposed renovations:

  • New landscaping at the Washington Monument, where the service is proposing to plant hundreds of trees and erect a new visitor information building -- complete with food service and restrooms -- to replace the current temporary structure.
  • New retaining walls, bike trails and walking paths around the Tidal Basin, a pool south of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial that is fed by the Potomac River.
  • Paving walkways running along the mall and replacing the grass and soil stomped by a constant carousel of festivals, protests, concerts and softball leagues.
  • A center to host political demonstrations near the Capitol, a new restaurant and performing arts venue east of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and a visitors' "welcome pavilion" at the mouth of the mall's Smithsonian Metro station.
  • And more toilets, the complaint most often heard during public listening sessions on the renovation plan, Line said.

Funding difficulties

The Park Service has no timeline to complete the projects, and only very few of the planned changes have a funding source in place.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $56.6 million to make repairs on the mall. That funding will cover the Reflecting Pool upgrade, some of the work around the Tidal Basin and a few other improvements, Line said.

The rest of the projects will have to compete with the other nearly 400 units of the National Park System for support from the agency's general budget.

That funding will be difficult to get, but without it, the mall's current decline will continue, said Judy Scott Feldman, chairwoman of the advocacy group National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

"The grass is brown, the buildings are crumbling and the Tidal Basin walls are sinking into the Potomac [River]," Feldman said. "It's a mess."