City backs off cuts at Guy Mason, Chevy Chase centers amid outcry

Guy Mason Recreation Center is located at 3600 Calvert St. NW in Glover Park. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2016)

Instructors and students at Guy Mason Recreation Center are facing confusion over whether several long-established programs can resume.

Last week, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation sent a four-sentence email to dozens of participants. Citing “contract procurement difficulties,” the agency told them it had terminated their programs — yoga, pottery and bridge groups as well as a Brazilian samba class — effective immediately. Some instructors found out only after arriving for their classes.

But agency spokesperson Michael Tucker told The Current Tuesday evening that all affected programs have been restored, but he had no further details or explanations. No instructors or students reached by The Current had heard about the reversal from city officials as of the newspaper’s Tuesday night production deadline.

Meanwhile, the recreation department has indefinitely put off plans to close the Chevy Chase Community Center at 9 p.m. weeknights instead of 10 in the face of strong community opposition — easing concerns for the time being, but leaving the future uncertain.

At Guy Mason, the recreation department initially said it didn’t have the money to fund the eliminated programs, according to Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh. The council member said that she wasn’t sure why the agency couldn’t find the funding, adding that the council cannot provide more money until fiscal year 2019 begins next October.

Guy Mason, located at 3600 Calvert St. NW, is a three-story recreation center with unique facilities including ceramics and pottery studios, a co-op room and a woodworking shop. David Messineo, president of the Friends of Guy Mason Recreation Center, told The Current that most of the affected programs were highly popular — attracting large turnouts multiple times per week.

“We’re trying to figure out what the Dept. was thinking, or if they were thinking at all about the consequences of arbitrarily cancelling classes,” pottery instructor Paula Miller — whose class was the only of three pottery programs not cut last week — wrote in a Monday email. “Nothing about the cancellations makes any sense at all.”

Some instructors said the recreation department routinely displays a lack of organization. Miller told The Current she did not receive her contract paperwork until Oct. 17 — three days before it was due back. “I would like to know why it was sent out so late,” Miller wrote on Monday.

Fellow instructor Jonathan Kerr — whose two pottery classes were eliminated — echoed Miller’s sentiments, saying Monday that the agency’s process was usually “kind of thrown together.”

“D.C. Parks and Rec in general doesn’t instill much confidence, usually. They have often done things at the last minute,” he wrote in an email.

Chris Marlow, secretary of Guy Mason’s friends group, has attended classes at the center since 2002 and currently goes to pottery and yoga. “We’re heartbroken as people in the community,” Marlow said in a Monday interview. “There’s no communication — zero.”

Marlow accused Mayor Muriel Bowser of neglecting Ward 3’s community centers, while saying her predecessor Vincent Gray was a “big supporter of parks.”

Tucker, the agency spokesperson, declined to discuss criticisms on Tuesday.

The cuts followed a controversial decision to curtail Guy Mason’s operating hours late last year. The center’s closing time changed from 10 p.m. to 9, and Sundays hours were eliminated altogether. Officials said the changes were an effort to align the center with other facilities citywide, but residents said valuable programs were affected.

Although the agency has held firm on Guy Mason’s hours, it did reverse course in Chevy Chase. The Department of Parks and Recreation had said in September that it needed to close the Chevy Chase Community Center at 9 p.m. weeknights instead of 10. Residents said the earlier closing time would greatly harm the facility’s evening programs, which include Scrabble, fencing and telescope-making clubs as well as community meetings.

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

In the face of objections, agency director Keith Anderson said at last Monday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G (Chevy Chase) said the current hours will remain at least for the time being. When asked at the meeting, Anderson said that there was “no good reason” for the cuts and that the department has no specific timetable for implementing them in Chevy Chase.

While most D.C. recreation centers shut at 9 p.m., ANC 3/4G chair Randy Speck said the Chevy Chase facility is of particular importance to the community, including a large population of seniors who depend on the center’s programs. Anderson agreed with Speck’s sentiment, saying at the meeting that the city’s community centers don’t benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach.

To Anderson, the budget is “not necessarily an issue,” and in fact, he said he’d ideally “like to increase the hours” of Chevy Chase Community Center.

Speck told The Current that the building isn’t currently used to its full potential, and ANC 3/4G hopes to discern ways to maximize the facility through a community survey available at through Thursday.

“Facilities are terrible and are not being kept up,” Speck said. “And they’re not actually helping people and facilitating people to participate in programs, in terms of community outreach.”

Current staff contributed to this report.