In the new year, neighborhood leaders are renewing calls to renovate the Jelleff Community Center after persistent complaints from residents over accessibility and dilapidated conditions.
Originally constructed as a young recreation center in 1953, Jelleff has not undergone significant renovation since its opening. Recently, the center has faced increased criticism surrounding the quality of its facilities along with its lack of accessibility and wheelchair access. Now, as part of the D.C. Council’s fiscal budget for 2021, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E is advocating for significantly more than already allocated $7 million be put towards renovations to the Jelleff Community Center.
The center has become increasingly dilapidated and inaccessible over time, according to Elizabeth Miller, ANC commissioner for the Single Member District 2E07, where Jelleff is located.
“Jelleff is used by children and families from all 8 wards and hasn’t had a renovation since it was built. It’s not ADA accessible and the HVAC systems are failing,” Miller wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s long past time to modernize it and make it a 21st century community center.”
The funding proposal to initiate these efforts was endorsed by Councilmember Brooke Pinto as her top budget request for Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2021. ANC 2E conducted a feasibility study with over 700 respondents in order to inform the budget request and plan for action.
This renovation has great potential benefits for the community, according to Miller.
“I’m hopeful that the children in the aftercare program at Jelleff will be the biggest winners of the Jelleff renovation.” Miller wrote. “I dream of them studying and recreating in a modern and beautiful building. They have spent far too many years in a dark, dank basement.”
Jelleff’s indoor facilities include a classroom, a computer lab, a music room, a gymnasium and a game room. The center also has a turf field and outdoor pool.
Many of these facilities could become increasingly valuable in the future, according to ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta.
“Give our community a public space they can use and will be of value to our neighborhood,” Putta said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “There is nothing nearby for an indoor space. With climate change, winters are only going to get worse and that is a large portion of the year where children, neighbors, are stuck in bad weather, wondering what to do, where to gather.”
Jelleff’s central location between Wisconsin Avenue and Rock Creek Park also adds to the center’s potential, according to Putta.
“So I think being connected to Wisconsin a little bit better, there is interest in that, so then you could benefit the local business along Wisconsin as well,” Putta said. “Rock Creek Park is on the other side and there are connections to the hiking trails of Rock Creek Park. You know, if you have youth programs at Jelleff, they should be able to explore nature.”
The current timeline for the center’s feasibility study indicates the process of drafting and compiling the study will continue throughout February before launching a final community engagement study and delivering the final feasibility study in March.
Given the timing of the project, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are an important consideration, according to Miller.
“COVID-19 impacts any impending construction project. Our lives will be lived very differently for years to come and I’m sure when the design process begins there will be thoughtful consideration of the new ways people work, play and recreate,” Miller wrote.
However, predictions made in 2020 overestimated the magnitude of losses the D.C. Council’s budget would face because of COVID-19, according to Putta. As a result, the D.C. Council will not only be tackling a smaller debt than expected in the upcoming fiscal year but also may see a window of opportunity increase the funds going towards the Jelleff renovations.
“We were worried about the timing, but actually this might not be bad — but might be good. There is a lot of support for it,” Putta said. “If we don’t do it in this project, we might not get the opportunity to do so for several decades.”
This article has been updated to clarify the amount of money the ANC is advocating to be allotted for the Jelleff Community Center renovations.