The Department of Parks and Recreation received $2 million for renovations of the Petworth Recreation Center at 8th and Taylor Streets NW back in October 2017. According to DPR, the money is to be used for the installation of a new ground surface and equipment in the spray park, as well as new playground equipment and updates to the basketball court. Several well-attended meetings were held, as well as a paper and digital survey, as DPR tried to communicate the changes and involve the community.
At those meetings, DPR never mentioned the possibility of a hard surface soccer mini-pitch ("futsal") coming to the park, or that they'd remove one of the basketball courts at the playground in order to install it. Yet that's what happened earlier this month.
DPR made a deal with the US Soccer Foundation, who proposed giving money to create a series of hard surface soccer mini-pitches across the city, and the USSF wanted the first one to coincide with the opening of Audi Field. DPR decided that Petworth Playground would be the location.
The funds for the construction of the soccer pitch and the removal of the basketball court were not taken from the $2 million set aside for the playground renovations.
At a community meeting held by DPR on May 7th about the upcoming renovations, there were several residents who expressed support for converting one of the two basketball courts into a multi-use court. In fact, 26% of English survey respondents said they'd be interested in a "Multi-Sports Court (Soccer/Volleyball/Basketball shared court) futsal court," a number that DPR says justifies the removal of one of the basketball courts. None of the Spanish language survey respondents voted for a multi-use court. (You can see all of the survey responses on the Department of General Services website.)
However, as Petworth News wrote back in May, "The results [of the survey] may not come as a surprise, given the demographics of respondents: more than 70 percent of responses came from adults ages 35 to 49, and most respondents had children between the ages of 2 and 7. Teenagers, who are likely the heaviest users of the basketball courts, accounted for only one percent of survey respondents."
It's clear that the main respondents of the survey were not the people using the basketball courts. Before permanently removing a basketball court that was heavily used by youth, "especially on Sunday nights," as one local teen told me, why didn't DPR reach out to the community?
When asked for comment, Keith Anderson, the Director of DPR, said the department had been approached by USSF in the fall of 2017 (well before any of the community meetings), to create the mini soccer pitches in DC. "In collaboration with USSF, DPR conducted an in-depth analysis of potential sites which took into account location demographics, current programming, as well as the potential future uses of existing courts throughout the city," said Anderson.
"Once the Petworth location was selected as a potential candidate for the new futsal court donation from USSF, DPR reached out to the local ANC Commissioner, the Friends of Petworth Park, and the surrounding community to share the exciting news and solicit feedback on the proposal," Anderson said. "Given the community’s input, DPR moved to have the court renovation completed in line with the opening of the new DC United Audi Field. The USSF, DPR, and DGS are planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will take place on Monday, August 6th at 2 pm at Petworth Recreation Center."
At the beginning of the summer, DPR did ask Sarah Gabriel, the president of Friends of Petworth Playground, to come to a meeting at DPR headquarters so they could share the news of the new futsal / mini-pitch.
"The deputy director of DPR, along with two US Soccer Foundation representatives and the renovation project manager, were at the meeting," Sarah said. "They presented the idea of installing the pitch, and that USSF would be 100% funding the construction. They said they already had all the permits completed. I asked if I could share the news, and they told me they would post signs."
Now that the pitch is installed, for the record, there are no signs posted.
ANC 4C07 Commissioner Karen Cooper said she received a few phone calls from DPR about the futsal court, but was never involved in a formal meeting. Beyond reaching out to Friends of the Petworth Park, DPR seemed to have done little-to-no public outreach.
While it's nice to have a new amenity in the neighborhood, and the red and black design with the DC United logo is pretty darn slick, it would have been better to communicate the upcoming changes at any one of the prior renovation meetings held by DPR over the course of the late spring and summer, and at any one of the ANC 4C meetings in June or July.
I've spoken to several youth who were playing at the remaining basketball court, and some expressed interest in the soccer pitch, and others thought it would reduce playtime on the weekends.
DPR says that it's possible to add the basketball nets back to the futsal court, but that it's not in their plans since there haven't been a lot of "permits" requested to use the courts. Mind you, most teens don't ask for a permit for a pick up game.
"We have found that increasing opportunities for other sports, such as soccer, is a more pressing need based on the community’s continued and enthusiastic requests," said Director Anderson.
Hopefully DPR finds a way to make this amenity popular.