Local residents voiced concerns that the Department of Parks and Recreation management takeover of Duke Ellington Field would limit access for community residents and public school students at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E meeting on Dec. 2.
The move sparked outrage because of a perceived lack of transparency in DPR’s communications with the community since the shift was first announced in July. DPR plans to execute the transfer from District of Columbia Public Schools on Dec. 14, despite requests from various community and school leaders to postpone due to concerns that students will be disadvantaged by the change in management.
The shift in management will increase neighborhood access, according to Delano Hunter, acting director of DPR.
“The transfer of Ellington Field from DCPS to DPR is intended to facilitate improved access for neighbors, the broader Ward 2 community, and neighboring DCPS schools,” Hunter wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We will continue working with the community to meet their needs and consider stakeholder feedback in the process to provide a space all residents can enjoy for years to come.”
The field is used primarily by three D.C. public schools: Duke Ellington School for the Arts, Hardy Middle School and School Without Walls High School. The Georgetown University track and field team also uses the field, due to a contract stemming from Georgetown’s role in funding renovations in 2005.
Residents pushed back against DPR’s plan, questioning Ely Ross, DPR chief of staff and the representative speaking at the ANC Meeting. Eric Langenbacher, head of the Burleith Citizens Association and a professor in Georgetown’s department of government, asked for DPR to halt the transfer process and allow more time for receiving community feedback.
“I’m almost a 50-year-old man. I don’t want to beg, but I’ll beg for a second,” Langenbacher said at the meeting. “Please give us more time before you make any kind of irrevocable decisions.”
Langenbacher’s call for an extension was echoed by other community leaders. Residents were startled by the transfer announcement, justifying their request for more time, according to ANC 2E Commissioner Kishan Putta.
“They were very confused that Councilmember Evans repeatedly wrote and said publicly that the transfer would not happen until after a series of public meetings. That never happened and then this 30-day notice dropped unexpectedly,” Putta wrote in an email to The Hoya. “So I don’t blame them for being frustrated and for asking for more time – at least till after a public community meeting in January after the holidays, as I requested at the ANC meeting.”
A contract with DPR allows The Maret School, a prestigious D.C. private school, exclusive access during after-school hours to Jelleff Field, a public sports field in Glover Park. There are fears that a similar arrangement would occur with Duke Ellington Field, limiting community and public school access, according to Langenbacher.
“Few if any Burleith neighbors I’ve spoken to support the transfer to DPR,” Langenbacher wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Many fear that the field will become another ‘asset’ that the city authorities can permit to the highest bidder–likely a bevy of out-of-neighborhood private schools or sports leagues. The field is not suitable for a big increase in use.”
Fourteen DPR properties have been involved in sponsorship agreements, leases and license agreements since 2001, with frequency increasing in recent years. These agreements largely grant private entities and schools priority access to the properties in exchange for funding.
DPR’s prioritization of private interests exemplifies bad governance, according to Martin Welles, vice president of the PTO at Hardy Middle School.
“What kind of government is this?” Welles said at the meeting. “And what kind of precedent are you setting when you enter into agreements like this and try to privatize our public assets?”