Burleith Association Hosts Forum on Playing Fields

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Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans at the Oct. 7 meeting. Photo by Peggy Sands.

The future of the Ellington Athletic Field is full of promise.

“All you have to do is decide what you want, and how much it will cost by November, and I can get it in next year’s D.C. budget,” said Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans to dozens of Georgetown and Burleith residents at an Oct. 7 meeting, organized by the Burleith Citizens Association, about Ellington Field. “Until then, nothing will happen. Nothing!”

The re-energized Evans, emerging after months of on-going investigations about his behavior, was lively as he faced the crowd, including one of his opponents for his Ward 2 seat, Kishan Putta, who lives in Burleith.

The fenced-in playing field, paved track and field house officially belong to the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts at 3500 R St. NW, a D.C. public school. The field is surrounded by residences on 38th, 39th and S Streets NW and has become the topic of a continual debate since May. That was when a meeting was called by the Department of Parks and Recreation to discuss the refurbishment of the Jelleff Recreation Center at 3265 S St. NW.  For $7 million and the extension of a ten-year contract, Maret School signed with DPR in August to commit $1 million to upgrade the Jelleff field in exchange for priority use on school day afternoons in the fall and spring.

For the past six months, controversy has grown because of the increased needs for athletic fields by the growing Hardy Middle School at 1819 35th St. NW, and other youth sports clubs and leagues in the area. The Georgetown-Burleith-Hillandale Advisory Neighborhood Commission — of which Putta is a member — has passed three resolutions calling for community input and transparency on the contract. An agreement with Maret to let Hardy School teams use Jelleff fields on late Wednesday afternoons was considered to be “not sufficient” by Hardy School athletic spokesperson Martin Welles.

Then came the rumors. Apparently, the D.C. Public Schools was planning an administrative move to transfer the Ellington Field’s jurisdiction to the DPR. The speculation was that the Ellington Field would be quickly upgraded and offered as the alternative playing field for Hardy school about four blocks away and others. The implication for increased traffic, trash and noise had aroused the neighbors as it had in the late 1990s, when Georgetown University offered to pave the track at their expense in exchange for use by university teams and students, recalled BCA President Eric Langenbacher.

“We have been trying for months to get DPR officials to talk to the community about it and just have been met with silence,” Langenbacher said. “The ANC has not been approached for our advice as is our responsibility,” said Georgetown ANC Chairman Rick Murphy. “We’ve met several times with park officials as commissioners, but they absolutely did not involve our communities in the final decision of the Maret-Jelleff extension nor of the possible move of the Ellington administrative jurisdiction,” Putta said.

“Nothing now will happen without full community input,” Evans repeatedly told the gathering. “There is and will not be any transfer of jurisdiction of Ellington from the schools to the park administration. But I will tell you again, that the city is flush with money. Flush.”

Ideas for the field have ranged from keeping the status quo as a residential park and playing field for pick-up games and team practice with a few scheduled matches, to a full-on community sports facility with a dog park and totally refurbished field house with showers and dressing rooms. According to Evans, it’s up to the community including the school community to decide.

The charge by Evans and promise of funds was underlined by an almost off-the-cuff but significant announcement — a surprise to some in the room — that he made towards the end of the meeting.

After many community entreaties for more money to expand the use and mission of the Jelleff Athletic Center building for a comprehensive community center, a decision has been made, Evans said. “The mayor has committed $25 million to demolish the current Jelleff building and rebuild it from the ground up.” Community ideas for use of the new community center, including from surveys by the BCA, will all be considered, Evans told the Georgetowner.

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