Chevy Chase neighbors resist plan to cut community center’s hours

The Chevy Chase Community Center is located at Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2017)

Plans to curtail the Chevy Chase Community Center’s hours, shifting its closing time from 10 to 9 p.m, attracted strong community opposition at Monday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G (Chevy Chase).

“I’ve seen no one come out and say: I agree with this,” ANC 3/4G member Abraham Clayman said at the meeting.

The plans were originally slated to go into effect Oct. 1, but the Department of Parks and Recreation agreed on Tuesday to postpone the decision to allow further community consultation, ANC 3/4G chair Randy Speck told The Current.

Commissioners unanimously opposed the change, noting that the reduced hours would infringe on a number of long-running activities at the community center. An evening Scrabble club that runs until about 10 p.m. and a bridge club that goes from 7 to 9 p.m would be affected by the change, as would ANC 3/4G’s own twice-monthly 7 p.m. meetings. In fact, ANC 3/4G meets more often than most advisory neighborhood commissions specifically to accommodate the center’s 10 p.m. closing time.

“The proposed shorter Community Center hours will make it impossible for the ANC to conduct its required work and to have full community participation,” Speck wrote in a notice on the Chevy Chase listserv Sept. 22.

Commissioners were also dismayed by the abrupt announcement of the proposal, learning of it via a Sept. 12 notice on the Chevy Chase listserv.

Neighbors voiced their displeasure that Themba Masimini, deputy director of recreation services for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, did not attend Monday’s meeting as planned. Brian Williams, a D.C. Parks and Recreation manager, filled in for Masimini, telling residents that the time change was part of “a push through DPR to be on a universal closing time.” Williams declined to answer any of the residents’ further questions.

“I can’t emphasize enough how disturbed we are that Mr. Masimini was not here,” Speck told residents at the meeting. “If you’re going to close the community center, you’ll have to carry us out.”

ANC 3/4G members said they wouldn’t adhere to the center’s time change without a public meeting attended by Masimini, who has since agreed to attend the commission’s Oct. 23 meeting.

The Chevy Chase neighborhood’s two D.C. Council representatives — Ward 3’s Mary Cheh and Ward 4’s Brandon Todd — also expressed concerns in a joint Sept. 22 letter to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“We ask that you reconsider this decision,” Cheh and Todd wrote. “As you know, recreation is a critically important part of the quality of life of our residents, who deserve full access to the amenities that they support through their tax dollars.”

The debate over the Chevy Chase Community Center recalls a community protest when the parks department reduced hours at Glover Park’s Guy Mason Recreation Center last year. There, the closing time also shifted from 10 p.m. to 9, and Sunday hours were eliminated. Despite strong objections from neighbors, the parks department held firm, saying it’s not practical to have longer hours at certain facilities because it complicates employee scheduling.