Rain sent the children at Southeast's Savoy Elementary School out to play in a mud bog. In dry weather, their school playground turned into a dustbowl.
Then, after a well-meaning neighbor added tree shavings to the clay-like playground surface, it turned into mulch.
In the 11 years that the school has been open at 2400 Shannon Place SE, D.C. school officials have promised teachers and Anacostia residents that the playground would eventually be blacktopped, according to principal Betty Larkins.
"I've been writing letters (requesting the work) the past nine years," she said. "Children who have asthma have suffered during the windy days, and when it rained we had to contend with the mud." The school has 605 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, she said.
Recently, two Savoy fifth graders joined the letter-writing campaign. In a letter to David Huie, the building and grounds superintendent for D.C. schools, Shaun Parker and Nick Simms, both 11, wrote that friends have been severely cut on sharp objects hidden in the dirt and that clothes have been ruined.
"Do something about the Savoy school field because we keep hurting ourselves and it is a disgrace and it stinks. Please do something real soon!" othe letter pleaded.
"It's hard to run and we keep hurting ourselves on the field," said Simms, explaining why he wrote the letter.
"I tore up my shirt (on the field)," said Parker, adding that his parents were none too pleased. The boys said they expect Huie to answer their letter sooner or later, "but most probably later," said Parker.
Acknowledging the long letter writing campaign, Huie said his office has notified Larkins that the playground will be blacktopped. "Right now we can't tell her when," he said. The work request was forwarded to the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) in September, Huie said. Once funds are approved for the project, DGS will contract for the work to be done.
Harold Henson, assistant director of the DGS Bureau of Repairs and Improvements, said it will take four to six months for the job to be completed after it receives the proper funding.
As in previous years, officials say the resurfacing project was delayed by budget constraints and the slow grind of the bureaucracy. Originally, Nichols Avenue Elementary School, which is next door to Savoy, was to be razed to provide the site for a hard surface area for the Savoy playground. When the Nichols Avenue school remained open, the plan to use that site as part of the Savoy playground was scrapped and no new plan was developed, Huie said.
Zora Felton, secretary of the Savoy Neighborhood Council, said that last December Huie notified her and Larkins of plans to blacktop the playground this spring. Nearly a year later they are still waiting, she said.