Stead Park supporters seek funding sooner for rec center renovation

The Stead Recreation Center is located at 1625 P St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2014)

Leaders of the Friends of Stead Park group were thrilled to learn last month that Mayor Muriel Bowser allocated $11 million for renovation of the Dupont Circle park’s dilapidated recreation center. But they were less excited when they heard that the funding wouldn’t be available until fiscal years 2021 through 2023.

As the D.C. Council reviews Bowser’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, Friends of Stead Park and other neighborhood groups are lobbying for the recreation center’s funds to be pushed ahead two years earlier. The friends group has enough money in reserve to bankroll design work and pre-construction permitting, but the actual work can’t proceed without city funding.

The friends group has been working since last year on preliminary recommendations for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to renovate the park’s 800-square-foot recreation center, which hasn’t seen an upgrade in 15 years or an expansion in more than 20. Right now, the small space boasts a dilapidated pingpong table and a computer room with equipment that malfunctions often. Proponents envision a building with flexible programming options for seniors and children, as well as public meeting space, which the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods currently lack.

“We’ve been waiting three years already, and now we’re being asked to wait five more years,” Friends of Stead Park vice president Kishan Putta said in an interview. “That’s too long to wait, especially when we have everything going for us in terms of a track record.”

The friends group was successful with a similar request of the council in 2013 to advance $2 million to enhance outdoor facilities at the 1625 P St. NW park, including a new turf field, running track and children’s spray area.

At the council’s annual D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation oversight hearing last Thursday, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh stopped short of committing to the park group’s latest proposal.

“I can’t promise anything until we look at the whole budget and see where we are,” said Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “We’ll see what we can do.”

Cheh’s fellow committee member Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans wasn’t present at Thursday’s hearing, but he told The Current on Monday that he supports the proposal for Stead Park and wants to accommodate it as soon as possible. Moving the funding earlier wouldn’t necessarily jeopardize any other projects, Evans said, but the details need to be worked out. “There’s a lot of unknowns at the moment,” he said.

Mayor Bowser’s annual revision of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan allots Stead Park $1 million for planning in 2020, $7 million for construction in 2021 and $3 million in 2022. The friends group has budgeted $1 million to replace the planning allotment, including designs and other preliminary aspects, Putta said.

The park was established in 1953 by a private bequest from local architect Robert Stead in memory of his wife Mary Force Stead. The group’s considerable reserve can be attributed in part to financial support from a private trust that Robert Stead created.

For the field renovation project in 2014, the friends group paid to secure permits and hire a professional permitting monitor before construction began. “It really did kickstart the process because it gets something on paper for people to look at, and it starts to become real even if it’s just a draft, and things can start moving after that,” Putta said.

Stead Park is one of the most heavily used recreational facilities in the city, according to the parks department. But the agency in 2014 declared the rec center building unsafe for a planned child care program, and out of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility. Backers hope the agency would agree to establish the program once the renovations are complete.

Renovation supporters testified at Thursday’s hearing that neighborhood groups with small budgets, like Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle) and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, would benefit from not having to pay for privately owned meeting locations.

Putta and friends group president Kari Cunningham also said that expanding facilities for seniors at Stead Park would fill an existing service gap in Ward 2, which is the only ward in the city besides Ward 3 without a brick-and-mortar senior wellness center.

Randy Downs of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B testified at the hearing that he moved to the neighborhood from Northeast because of his positive experience at the park on the Stonewall Kickball team for LGBTQ athletes. ANC 2B voted last fall to call for a renovation and supports the request for earlier funds, Downs said.

“Stead Park is a jewel of the city,” he told the council.