While some parents in Ward 8, the District's poorest, were bemoaning the sudden closure of the pitiful little Orr Recreation Center last week, other parents, in Ward 3, the wealthiest, were looking forward to the groundbreaking for a multimillion-dollar recreation center to replace the one at Stoddert Elementary School.
Ward 8 has the most children of any ward in the city. There are 2,065 residents younger than 18 just in Anacostia, the neighborhood in Southeast Washington where Orr is located. Many must venture several miles to reach the next-closest recreation center.
Ward 3, by contrast, has the fewest children of any ward. There are 419 in Glover Park, the neighborhood in Northwest Washington where Stoddert is located. They have four nearby recreation areas to choose from, including the Jelleff Boys & Girls Club and the Guy Mason, Georgetown and Stoddert rec centers.
In some respects, the disparity reflects the growing gap between the District's rich and poor, one of the widest in the nation. The top 20 percent of households, mostly white, make 31 times as much as the bottom 20 percent, nearly all black, according to a recent study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
But there is more at work here than money. There is also racial discrimination, especially in housing and employment. And there is the contempt for less-fortunate blacks displayed by city officials, many of whom are also black and only a paycheck away from poverty themselves.
Parents from Anacostia and Glover Park had expressed similar desires for their respective recreation centers: They all wanted more space and more resources. There was also a special need at Orr for creative staff members to work with boys and girls who have seen and experienced much too much, way too soon.
In Ward 3, D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D) skillfully brought the bacon home to her constituents, whether they needed it or not. Along with the $4 million for the Stoddert project, Patterson helped get $2 million earmarked for the renovation of the Guy Mason Recreation Center just a few blocks away.
Orr, by contrast, got worse than nothing. Moreover, a spokesman for Ward 8 council member Sandy Allen (D) said she had not been informed that the recreation center had closed.
Both the Orr and Stoddert recreation centers are connected to elementary schools that bear the same names, and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation leases the space from the schools. When the lease was up at Orr last week, Principal Michelle N. Williams offered the department use of the school with reduced hours, from 7 to 9 p.m. instead of 3 to 9 p.m. The children would have to go home, return to the recreation center hours later and then go home again.
When concerned parents showed up at Orr last week to speak with Williams, they said, she barred them from the school. They ended up holding a meeting on the sidewalk, trying to figure out where to go from there. The next morning, they found a note taped to a school door announcing a "parents roundtable discussion" to be held at a later date.
"There were no details about what the discussion would be about," said Linda Holmes, whose daughter attends the school and whose 16-year-old son was a tutor at the recreation center before it closed. "Would it be about the recreation center? School business? We couldn't even find out the subject."
I called Williams for comment and was told by a receptionist that she would return the call as soon as possible. When she did not, I called again and was given a telephone number for a "D.C. public schools communications specialist," which led to a voice mailbox that was full. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
The Orr rec center, which had become a gathering place for neighbors since it opened 30 years ago, closed less than a week after parents got the news -- by word of mouth.
"It's not like we needed to get out of there. We were asked to leave," said Terry Lee, a recreation department spokesman. "Someone decided that maybe we were expendable."
Tomorrow: Who decides?