Staff Editorial: Despite reversing some ill-advised cuts, recreation agency must improve further

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

Some troubling decisions by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation over the past year have endangered or eliminated locally popular services in favor of adhering to unnecessary citywide goals. While there have been some meaningful reversals in response to the justifiable public outcry, the agency’s actions and motivations are highly concerning.

Troubles began late last year, when the recreation department cut the operating hours of Glover Park’s Guy Mason Recreation Center — contending that it was administratively burdensome to accommodate different schedules at different locations. The agency followed suit this fall with a planned cut at the Chevy Chase Community Center. Then it abruptly canceled well-attended classes at Guy Mason over “contract procurement difficulties.”

The recreation department compounded each of these painful cuts with an appalling lack of community notice or input. Shortly before the hours or programs were to be eliminated, the agency made brief public announcements and considered the matter closed. The public was not invited to weigh in. There was no outreach to affected stakeholders. There wasn’t even adequate advance notice about implementation.

Two of these three issues have been addressed, at least for now. The recreation department restored the recently cut Guy Mason programs — though not last year’s hours of operation — and agreed to push back any early closures at the Chevy Chase center. Speaking at a recent meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G (Chevy Chase), agency director Keith Anderson said he’d even prefer to see extended hours at the facility and criticized the idea of “one-size-fits-all” scheduling.

We agree wholeheartedly, and we’re gratified to hear that sentiment from the director. The agency and the community should have a shared goal: maximizing the recreation opportunities made available — and made known — to residents.

Beyond Mr. Anderson’s remarks, and the reversal of some recent damage, there remains great room for improvement. We’d like to see the recreation department encourage community groups that can help support local centers — suggesting new or alternative planning, and helping to get the word out about classes and programs. The Friends of Guy Mason Recreation Center and a planning group related to the Chevy Chase Community Center provide an excellent framework, though there’s room for a more formal role for residents.

Of course, wonderful plans and engaged residents are all for naught if the recreation department chooses to impose its will in negative ways — as it recently did in Chevy Chase and Glover Park. We hope the agency can learn from its embarrassing reversals in these cases. We’d also like to see the department revisit the hours at Guy Mason with the recognition that the operating schedule should best serve the residents of Glover Park and beyond, rather than adhere to the misguided one-size-fits-all mindset that the director himself criticized in Chevy Chase.