It was standing room only in the Georgetown Library meeting room on Wednesday, Jan. 15, when close to 200 residents met with city officials from the Departments of Parks and Recreation, DC Public Schools and the Department of General Services about the future of Ellington Field.
For decades, the facility, managed by DC Public Schools, has been the official playing field and track of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (formerly Western High School) two blocks away, though the R Street high school has few athletic teams. Georgetown University, which refurbished the track almost a decade ago, uses it for some team practices.
But its biggest use is by the surrounding community of families, children, seniors and dog owners. In December, many users told a visiting reporter from The Georgetowner that the field has been the center of their community life.
Last October, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her intention to transfer the administration of Ellington Field from DCPS to DPR, which manages the field at the Jelleff Recreation Center. The idea behind the move is that the Ellington facility will become the priority playing field for athletic teams from Hardy Middle School and School Without Walls.
The controversy sparked by those plans was the reason for holding the town meeting. “Unfortunately, many don’t fully trust DPR after a 10-year renewal agreement with Maret private school for exclusive prime-time use of Jelleff field this summer was signed without full transparency,” said Commissioner Kishan Putta of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E.
In December, Putta told The Georgetowner that he had made a written request to the city for three things: to hold a public meeting; to delay the transfer until after the holidays and the public meeting; and to provide written assurances that no long-term private contracts would be signed, that public school and neighborhood use would be given priority and that neighborhood access would not be restricted.
The first two have been done, according to Putta: the town meeting was held and the public comment period about the transfer extended to Feb. 12. Putta is hopeful that his third request will be met as well, although many who attended on Wednesday evening said they were not happy about the notification process for the meeting.
Despite the full house, many there claimed they had only heard about the meeting at the last minute and by word-of-mouth. Several attendees commented that, at the very least, readable signs could have been posted at the field’s entrance points, since not everyone has access to the internet and checks the DPR website.
DPR officials agreed to do so.
Many at the meeting also expressed concern about the transfer to DPR. Noting that “Everyone fully supports the concept that schools would have the first priority use for the field,” Burleith Citizens Association President Eric Langenbacher asked, “So why change the jurisdiction?”
Everyone also appeared to strongly support concurrent community use of the field, including a possible enclosed dog run. City officials responded that, because public school fields often are closed when the schools are, DPR is the most inclusive option.
“But Ellington Field under DCPS has always been open year-round,” Putta told The Georgetowner. “The problem is public trust of the DPR after last summer’s Jelleff Field contract was signed without transparent community input. We want assurances in writing that that won’t happen again.”