More than 100 people showed up for the Department of Parks and Recreation’s midsummer information meeting at the Georgetown Public Library on Monday, July 23. They were there to hear about preliminary plans to remodel Georgetown’s low-profile recreation center and swimming pool, variously known as the Jelleff Recreation Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. The facility has been around since 1953.
Most people barely notice it sitting below the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue and at the back of a large playing field on S Street. There are no noticeable signs marking it as a public park on either thoroughfare.
“The DPR has budgeted $7 million to remodel and upgrade the building and add some client services that will fit within that budget,” said Peter Nohrden, DPR’s designated project manager.
This was the first of five community meetings to get input. The mood was passionate. A variety of age groups was represented, though there was a large turnout by men who were tall — very tall, as in over 6-foot-2. That’s because the Jelleff Center has become a hub of youth basketball and there was a lot of interest from players, parents and alums.
“During the year, we have 93 formal and informal teams practicing, working out and playing on the one court at Jelleff, from about 4 to 8:30 p.m.,” said Bob Stowers, the venerated 20-plus-year club director, whose comments were greeted with applause from the crowd. “Over 350 second- to 12th-grade schoolchildren are currently using the courts every day during the D.C. summer camp period.”
The logistics of moving kids, team leaders, parents and grandparents off and on the one court and through the now dated 1950s-style dressing rooms and gym are a constant challenge. How does he do it?”
“Through great experience,” Stowers responded. “But we can and should be able to do it better and be more cost-effective with expanded and better laid out facilities — especially a multipurpose modern gym.”
Many at the meeting spoke of needing space for programs they personally desired, from yoga to child care, more senior and teen services — although there already is a computer center — and even a nutrition and cooking center. Several spoke of the center as being a vital resource also for residents of Ward 3.
“No improvements to the pool are planned, as that would go through the aquatic program budget,” said Nohrden.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for the community,” said Kishan Putta, a Jelleff Center neighbor and community advocate. “After the meeting, a group of us stayed on to talk about how we can advocate for more than what was laid out at this first meeting. A few of us have already spoken with Ward 2 and 3 District Council members Jack Evans and Mary Cheh.”
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” Putta said. “Two basketball courts are obviously needed, as well as a multiuse athletic center and meeting space. The basement when remodeled also can provides a large space for multiple uses. None of Georgetown’s parks have indoor athletic centers. Only Jelleff.”
That means going beyond the District budget. It also means seeking outside support from private and donor sources.
Nohrden is planning four more community-input meetings in the year to come. He envisions plans to be finalized by summer of 2019, construction to take about six to nine months and the reconstructed Jelleff Center to open in fall or spring of 2020.
“But this first community meeting was just the beginning,” said Putta. “It’s summer and few people knew about it. The next one will be much, much larger.”