The Jelleff Recreation Center at 3265 S St. NW, owned by the District Department of Parks and Recreation and managed by Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, was the compelling topic of a standing-room-only town meeting at the Georgetown Public Library on Wednesday, May 8.
The meeting, attended by area athletes, senior residents and school and city officials, focused on two burning questions.
The first concerned the future usage of the main sports field at Jelleff, built 10 years ago entirely at the expense of Maret School, a private K-12 coed school at 3000 Cathedral Ave. NW. For the past decade, Maret has had prime-time use of the field and responsibility for its maintenance under a contract that is up for renewal negotiations next month.
There were calls to negotiate some after-school time for soccer, lacrosse and softball competitions for Georgetown’s growing school and youth athletes in the new contract. However, Maret officials argue that they have complied with all requirements and expect the contract to be extended as is for another 10 years.
At the meeting, park officials also faced agitated questions and comments about the $7 million budgeted for the center’s renovation. Built in 1953, Jelleff hosts over 90 youth and adult basketball leagues on its one upstairs court and a popular Boys & Girls Club in the basement rooms. The recently approved funding is to be used primarily to meet national requirements for disabled access, as well as to install a new air conditioning system.
But many Georgetown residents see the planned renovation of the building as the one chance in decades to provide space for community programs — ranging from yoga to computer classes — for the growing demographic of active seniors and young families in Georgetown and Burleith. Some Jelleff fans, like 65-year-old Jelleff Center Director Bob Stowers, who has been involved with the center since he was 6 years old, think the entire project should be rethought.
Stowers and others believe the community’s needs would be met more economically and equitably if the building were torn down and completely rebuilt. One of his club alumni is a public contractor who has given him a plan that proves it. “In the meantime, a temporary elevator, ramp and air conditioning system could be installed to meet ADA requirements, as they have been in other public facilities,” Stowers said.
“But it was the 14-year-old Hardy Middle School student who was the star of the evening,” said Lisa Palmer, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, after the meeting. Palmer reported that Laura Rowen said: “It doesn’t seem right that our sports teams have to sit on a bus for over an hour to go to a sports field across town for a ‘home game’ when there is a beautiful playing field in a public park just across the street.” Hardy is located at 1819 35th St. NW.
DPR officials confirmed that no new money has been budgeted for field maintenance to date. In the present contract, Maret has 100-percent responsibility for maintenance. “We’re expecting to spend over $600,000 for a new and upgraded cover for the entire field and another $400,000 in maintenance over the next 10 years,” Ian Cameron, president of Maret’s board of trustees, told The Georgetowner.
That extended contract is not written in stone, however. “Twice DPR Project Manager Peter Nohrden responded ‘yes’ to my questions if the present contract is done in June 2020 and open now to new negotiation starting this June,” said Joe Gibbons, member and former chair of ANC 2E. “What everyone wants now is that that new contract be negotiated openly and transparently this time.”
Two breaking news items were also announced at the meeting. The actual schedule for the planning, budgeting and construction of the Jelleff Center has been postponed by a year. “That really gives us time to make our needs known and to look at demolition and new construction as an option,” Stowers said.
Also, Nohrden announced that DPR is in final negotiations to take over the sparsely used playing fields of Duke Ellington School of the Arts at 3500 R St. NW; these could possibly offer an alternative for community and school games.