For the first time in more than a decade, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents for help in crafting a five-year master plan to help the agency improve recreation centers, parks and programs.
Recreation officials, along with a handful of consultants, recently hosted three public meetings to share information and solicit ideas and feedback about how the agency can better serve the community. The first draft of the master plan is to be completed in February and made available for public review on the agency's Web site. The final plan is to be released in April.
The public meetings, which offered residents the opportunity to meet the agency's new director, Kimberly Flowers, were held at the Emery Recreation Center, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and the Kennedy Recreation Center.
The information "is to be used as a tool to set policies, make cases for additional resources and making adjustments, if necessary, with regard to our budget," Flowers said. "This is like our playbook."
At the meetings, recreation officials and consultants wrote residents' concerns on oversized pads propped up on easels. The participants were asked to rotate through the room, where different facilitators were stationed to collect their ideas.
Participation in the master plan is part of a year-long process that included mailing surveys to 4,000 residents this summer. The residents were chosen based on a random sample of 500 households from each of the city's eight wards. More than 10 percent, or 421 residents, returned the surveys, which included 39 questions about their use of recreational programs and the physical conditions of centers, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools. Going directly to the community through the meetings was critical, recreation officials said, because many of the respondents to the survey were from Ward 3, home to a majority of the city's white and affluent residents, and not necessarily representative of the demographics across the city.
At the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8, community activists, parents and volunteers who work with children at the city's facilities described the deteriorating conditions of football and baseball fields and the lack of staff members, maintenance and programs to keep children off the streets.
"When something happens in the city, police lights, the mayor and 500 people can be there," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Sheila Carson-Carr of Ward 7. "But why wait for something to happen?"
Eric Holland, a volunteer at Ridge Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, said that many of the fields where teams play football and baseball are filled with rocks and debris and that one field even has a manhole near the goal line.
"What's in the plans for our kids east of the river who play football?" Holland asked.
Other volunteers with recreation programs voiced their frustration with equipment and staffing problems. William Fitchett, a volunteer athletic director at the Ridge center, said there are no female staffers to lead programs designed for young girls. There are more than 50 girls at his center.
Fitchett added that the city doesn't provide enough outlets for young males, either.
"Once the kids reach a certain age, we don't have programs for them," Fitchett said, using a video game to illustrate his point. "They get in those cars and play Grand Theft Auto."
Chris Matias of Capitol Hill asked about park regulations.
"If I want to play basketball, are there rules if somebody wants to have a barbecue at half court?" Matias asked.
Linda Eckles criticized the recreation officials for holding the meeting at the tennis center, which she called a "perfect glitzy location," and for spending money on four consultants, including the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University, to study issues she said were commonly known in the community.
After the meeting, Eckles, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7, said she thinks the city needs to shift its priorities. "Anacostia doesn't have a recreation center of any kind," Eckles said. "If you care about kids, you want 20 small centers, not this temple."