Turtle Park reopening delayed again after design change

Last-minute design changes to the playground have pushed back Turtle Park's reopening from June to August. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

The long-delayed reopening of Turtle Park has been postponed yet again — to the first week of August — to accommodate last-minute design changes, officials with the D.C. Department of General Services told the community last week.

The park at 45th and Van Ness streets NW, formally known as Friendship Park, has been closed for the last two years for an $8 million renovation to the site’s outdoor areas and recreation center. The work was originally slated to be finished last fall, but the agency had to contend with the inconvenient locations of multiple pipes — one of which had to be relocated, and another that forced the new recreation center to be shifted on the site.

Last Tuesday, the agency pushed back the reopening again. This time, according to Friends of Friendship Park board members, the issue stemmed from community concerns about the playground’s flooring. During the park’s planning, residents had requested that the designs incorporate natural materials such as wood chips. But amid concerns that this “engineered wood fiber” material is difficult to maintain in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, officials switched to a synthetic play surface — prompting fresh complaints.

Now, the plans call for a “bonded engineered wood fiber carpet” — basically, wood chips that are attached together — which will go on paths through the playground, the friends group said. This approach is designed to ensure that wood chips aren’t depleted from key areas of the park, which would make the surface uneven and therefore difficult for a wheelchair to maneuver on, the friends group told The Current. However, that design change has pushed the anticipated reopening into the first week of August, General Services Department spokesperson Jackie Stanley told The Current.

Asked whether the long closure of Friendship Park was unavoidable, Stanley said the pipe issues were “the main reason for the delayed opening.”

“Each construction project is different and has their unique unforeseen conditions that may impact the completion date of the project,” Stanley wrote in an email.

The play surface issue first emerged in response to complaints regarding Lafayette Park in Chevy Chase. There, a neighbor of the newly modernized park complained that its poorly maintained wood chips didn’t meet ADA standards — a position backed up by the D.C. Office of Disability Rights and a disability rights group that filed a legal complaint against the city.

The city recently said it would address the complaints at Lafayette, and at Kalorama Park, which was renovated with the same issue. Stanley didn’t respond to questions about why the wood chips made it so far in the design process at Friendship.

The Friends of Friendship Park expressed appreciation for the last-minute change away from synthetic surfacing.

“It’s unfortunate that Turtle Park will not be open until later in the summer, since this is a peak park time for kids,” the group’s co-president, Cory Miller, wrote in an email to The Current. “But the delay came about because the city was trying to be responsive to [neighbors’] complaints about the type of surfacing used on the playground.”

Workers were still finishing up the Friendship Recreation Center at Turtle Park on June 19. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

The renovation project, according to Stanley, includes new playgrounds, one for young children and the other for those up to age 12; new tennis and basketball courts; a new splash pad; and landscape improvements. Meanwhile, the new recreation center includes 4,500 square feet of space with a community room, a dedicated “kids/craft” room, a lobby art gallery, and storage and administrative space.

“The old Turtle Park building was tiny and outdated and was not suitable for programming for more than about a dozen people,” Miller wrote. The larger building not only provides space for additional programs and activities, but it also gives a safe space to shelter large groups in the event of lightning, he said.

Meanwhile, Miller expressed enthusiasm that the renovation was able to preserve the old park’s large turtle play structures that gave the site its nickname.

The friends group is currently seeking opinions on possible programming at the park at surveymonkey.com/r/dyjmymg. It’s also looking for possible volunteers, who can contact the group at volunteer@turtlepark.org.

Despite serving as the group’s co-president, Miller said his children haven’t yet gotten a chance to play at Turtle Park due to the long closure. Asked for his impressions of the agencies involved with the renovation, he struck a positive tone.

“It has been a long, hard process, but we’re almost there,” he wrote. “We see no sense in complaining now or re-hashing old frustrations. The renovated Friendship ‘Turtle’ Park is going to be beautiful and we’re grateful that it’s almost done.”