The Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s monthly meetings are usually, and notably, civil affairs, with a calm chairperson, currently Rick Murphy, efficiently pushing through a multipaged agenda of speakers, announcements and PowerPoint presentations. The July meeting, held Monday, July 1, at first seemed no different.
The agenda included not only the usual reports from the police department (every type of crime was down in June), from the offices of the mayor and Council member Jack Evans, from Georgetown Main Street and the Georgetown Business Improvement District. After the BID’s fifth five-year renewal was approved, the organization announced the construction of two parklets at O and 31st Streets that would take up four metered parking places.
There also was the promised appearance of District Department of Transportation officials to response to a number of issues brought up at the last meeting, including the traffic flow in front of Georgetown University Hospital on Reservoir Road and the repaving of Dent Place. And Chairman Murphy announced, without reaction, the demise of free plastic water bottles at future meetings due to environmental concerns.
So it was unusual that about 15 minutes into the meeting the tone and tension suddenly heated up. District Department of Parks and Recreation Chief of Staff Ely Ross had been asked just a few hours before to speak on an unannounced agenda item. Murphy said he had just heard at 4 p.m. about a seemingly innocuous bureaucratic decision by DC Public Schools to transfer to DPR its administrative oversight of the little known, presumably lightly maintained and relatively unused playing field at 38th and S Streets that officially belongs to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, located about five blocks away at 37th Street and Reservoir Road.
The Duke Ellington field is also used as the home ground for the local rugby league team the Washington D.C. Slayers.
“Is it a done deal?” Murphy demanded. “Did you even try to reach out to tell the ANC about it? Have funds been transferred? Have any plans been made for the field that will impact all the neighbors around it?”
“It is an administrative change,” said Ross. “It has been agreed to but not yet signed.”
“With no input from the ANC?” asked Murphy again.
“Yes,” answered Ross. “It’s just administrative. No changes. No plans are made — yet.”
“I am extremely, profoundly concerned,” Murphy responded. “The very reason why the ANCs were formed is to make its views and recommendations on just such matters known to city agencies and taken seriously.”
Ross dutifully apologized for the ANC’s having been left out, but commissioners Joe Gibbins, Elizabeth Miller and Kishan Putta — who lives just a block away from the field and uses the park daily — continued to ask, why the rush?
When Ross didn’t respond, Murphy said angrily: “We know why. It’s because of Jelleff.” That opened the Pandora’s Box.
The playing fields at the Jelleff Recreation Center at 3265 S St. NW are controlled by DPR. It is half a block from Wisconsin Ave and Hardy Middle School, which has petitioned for more use of Jelleff’s fields on weekdays. But the manicured fields were built in 2009 and maintained for the past 10 years under an exclusive prime-time-use contract with the private K-12 Maret School, located at 3000 Cathedral Ave. That contract is up for renewal for another 10 years at the end of this year.
“The ANC voted not to extend the contract between the private Maret School and the city on Jelleff field and asks [DPR] to stop negotiating behind closed doors and make public their proposal process,” Commissioner Miller wrote DPR Director Delano Hunter on July 3.
In a proposition passed unanimously at its July 1 meeting, the ANC demanded that DPR “make public the criteria that will drive their decision-making and to have a transparent proposal process that allows more than one school at the table. To date, ten schools and the Boys and Girls Club have expressed interest in access to the Jelleff field during the most in-demand hours. Now with late word that the Duke Ellington field may be part of the negotiations regarding Jelleff … without a single word to our ANC or any public input — the confusion has reached CODE RED.”
Georgetown’s Council member Jack Evans also was drawn into the fray. His administrative aide, Ruth Werner, demurred when asked if she knew of the memo transferring administrative jurisdiction from DPS to DPR.
The original arrangement was welcomed. The District claimed then, as it does now, that it does not have the funds to maintain the fields that Maret School built at the Jelleff Center 10 years ago.