At long last, the children of Trinidad in Northeast Washington jammed their way yesterday through the open doors of their "new" community center.
More than 32 years after Trinidad residents first asked city officials for a community center -- and 29 months after the center was finished -- city recreation officials took the locks off the turreted, brown brick castle building at 1200 Morse St. NE and let 250 noisy, shoving youngsters onto the basketball court and into the hobby and activity rooms.
While the children seemed delighted with their new building, which has cost city taxpayers $1.3 million, some community leaders grumbled about the delays in opening the facility and the quality of what they finally got.
"We didn't get what we wanted," George Boyd, the president of the Mount Olivet Heights Civic Association, told the children and about 50 Trinidad residents who attended the brief ribbon-cutting ceremonies. "But you're getting part of it. We have to continue our struggle. We have to get more money from the District."
What upsets Boyd and others is that the activity rooms are small, the basketball court has to double as a community meeting room and the concrete roof-top roller skating rink is pock-marked with undrained puddles of water.
City Council member William B. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) conceded to the crowd that city projects do "not always happen as quickly as we'd like" and later described the delay in opening the center as "an unfortunate situation."
"We had problems with the contractor," Spaulding said. "We were in court almost two years to assign responsibility" for a leaky roof over the basketball court.
On top of the delay, neighborhood residents were told that the center would open three times within the last month. But no one showed up to unlock the facility on those occasions.
Spaulding attributed that delay to "some fouled-up information" in the Recreation Department.
"It wasn't nothing earth-shaking," Lester E. Tyler, the Ward 5 recreation manager, said of the phantom community center openings.
Spaulding promised that a higher fence would soon be installed on tip of the existing eight-foot-high concrete block roof-top skating rink wall so no one could scale it. Then the rink can be opened, he said.
"I feel better now that it's open," said Earl Harrington, a 13-year-old basketball enthusiast. "We just kept coming over here and they just kept telling us they couldn't open the doors."