In addition to being a student, activist and writer, Anna Landre (SFS ’21) represents Georgetown University as a member of the local governing body, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E. Landre has served on the commission since February 2019, but she has never been inside of the ANC’s formal office suite at the Jelleff Community Center.
Landre has been a wheelchair user for most of her life due to spinal muscular atrophy type 2, and the Jelleff Center is far from compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for accessibility, rendering it impossible for her to enter.
“The symbolism of it, the principle of it — that the ANC has an office in a place that is not physically accessible to someone who is elected commissioner — it’s really disappointing,” Landre said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
The center’s lack of accessibility is one of several reasons Landre and other ANC commissioners are advocating for the Washington D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to renovate Jelleff. The center, which is the only publicly owned indoor recreation space in the Georgetown or Burleith neighborhoods, has long been a staple of the community, currently used for its pool, gymnasium, and after-school classrooms. It has never been significantly renovated since opening in 1953 across Wisconsin Avenue from Hardy Middle School.
As a result, ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta said students in after-school programs study in a “dark” and “windowless basement,” while visitors to the pool are relegated to “terrible” locker rooms.
“The showers look like they’re from a prison camp,” Putta said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “The building is unwelcoming, uninviting, in bad shape and very outdated.”
The fight to modernize Jelleff — both to bring it in line with the ADA and to update its offerings for the community — has been a long one; DPR first allocated $7 million to fund the project in 2018. The process went as far as a search for contractors before DPR dropped the issue, according to Putta.
“They didn’t give a public reason,” Putta said. “But we in the community knew that the project needed more funding.”
The advocates are now redoubling their efforts, calling for an increase in funds in order to fully revamp the center and bring it in line with the ADA.
“We’re all aligned: Brooke Pinto, the ANC commission, the community partners and residents. We all want more funding for the project,” Putta said.
However, Landre said not everyone appreciates the urgency of the project or the need for the community space to be renovated as soon as possible.
“Everyone is pretty much in agreement that it has to be renovated, certainly in the community,” Landre said. “The thing is that even though we have that promise [from the DPR], there hasn’t been action.”
According to Landre, that lack of concrete action speaks to a wider problem throughout the Georgetown neighborhood, which she described as having many inaccessible historic buildings and pedestrian routes.
“I think Georgetown has this problem in a larger sense than just the community center,” Landre said. “Our nature as a historic part of our city has been used as a tool to exclude certain members of the community and as justification for not updating buildings and making them as accessible as possible.”
According to Putta, DPR is already running behind on its first deadline: a feasibility study that was originally scheduled to be completed in December. The study will determine how much funding should be allocated to the project and what specific renovations should be done. The ANC passed a resolution in September calling for a series of community meetings to generate feedback on what the center needs and urging DPR to at least complete the study by January.
“The only update is that there is no update yet as the study is not complete,” a DPR spokesperson said in response to an inquiry from The Hoya. The spokesperson maintained that there is “no delay to speak of,” although they confirmed that a contractor had not yet been hired to complete the feasibility study.
More than 400 residents of Georgetown and Burleith filled out a survey taken last year to gather community opinions about plans for the Jelleff renovation. More than 50% said they wanted “yoga, fitness, and other exercise classes and spaces” at the new center. Over 30% supported the inclusion of “basketball and soccer facilities,” while 20% wanted “more general community-related programming ranging from photography to art classes to movie screenings to senior wellness.”
ANC Commissioner Elizabeth Miller said Georgetown University students are one of the community groups she hopes will become active in an updated Jelleff Center.
“I would love to see a collaboration between the university and aftercare program [at Jelleff] with some tutoring and baking classes,” she said. “Georgetown students are some of the best and the brightest in the country. To put your passions and brains and extracurricular activities that you’re good at and merge that together with what’s happening there after school, it would be wonderful.”
Miller envisions the updated Jelleff Center becoming a “beacon” for the entire community to come together.
“I think that a community center can be a heartbeat,” she said. “And I would like to see Georgetown and Burleith and everything included have a place where we can gather to exercise and meet and socialize and do everything in between.”