George Washington University's soccer team is playing on a new state of the art ballfield this season thanks to the university's $500,000 renovation of the field beside Francis Junior High School at 25th and M streets NW.
The agreement, which took years to negotiate, represents the first public-private athletic field partnership in the city, and one of the largest private contributions toward solving the growing problem of a shortage of playing fields in the city.
The university upgraded the three-acre field, which is owned by the D.C. Department of Recreation and Parks but had become badly worn and littered with debris and rocks.
The university also built a sprinkler and drainage system, planted new grass and installed lights for night games. It then agreed to maintain the field at a cost of $50,000 a year.
In return, the university originally had asked for guaranteed time slots in the fall for its varsity soccer team and spring slots for baseball games and practices.
But to meet D.C. laws requiring public access to public fields, the university agreed to donate both the money for the initial renovation and for annual maintenance. The university will use the field on a permit basis, in competition with community requests.
"This is no quid pro quo," said Arthur Fawcett, the recreation department's policy chief who negotiated the agreement.
Community leagues and Francis School's teams will also use the field for soccer practices.
The agreement took five years to hammer out, but Steve Bilsky, director of GWU's athletic department, attributed that to changes in the negotiating team.
In 1988, Stephen J. Trachtenberg replaced Lloyd Elliott as GWU president, the same year that Paul Woodard replaced William Johnson as head of the recreation department.
"This is a very simple and non-controversial arrangement," Bilsky said. "A win-win situation."
Some residents disagree. The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission was split 3 to 3 on it.
And when it came before the Foggy Bottom Civic Association, "my recollection was the community didn't have much say because we had no legal leg to stand on," said association president Elayne DeVito. Concerns included traffic and beer-drinking students, DeVito said.
ANC member Ralph Rosenbaum, who voted against the plan, said even now, he and others remain suspicious that GWU's long-range plan is to build a stadium there.
"I don't have a piece of paper in front of me that says this, but it's pretty obvious to me," he said.
Mike Brown, assistant superintendent of Rock Creek Park, said a stadium is out of the question because the National Park Service, which owns a strip of the field, was assured that no major structures would be built there.
GWU's Bilsky said he understands the skepticism.
"If I offered you a half-million dollars with no strings attached, you'd probably think there was another motive too," he said.