by Ali Chalupa
President, Friends of Forest Hills Playground
As the weather in Washington, DC warms up, playgrounds throughout the area will again be bustling with families enjoying the outdoors after a long winter. But starting later this year, the Forest Hills Playground will be temporarily closed as it undergoes a massive makeover as part of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Play DC Initiative.
Last November, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) announced the concept of Play DC as “a multi-year initiative and the largest playground renovation project in the District of Columbia’s history.” It will focus on the renovation of 32 playgrounds throughout the district, with a budget of more than 30 million dollars, and the ambitious goal of completing them all by this Fall.To help engage local residents in its renovation efforts, DPR held a community meeting in mid-November to gather input and ideas on design concepts for the Forest Hills Playground. For those unable to attend the meeting in person, DPR conducted an online survey to gather additional feedback from the community.
At its follow-up meeting on December 18th, DPR was initially planning to reveal the final design for the Forest Hills playground, like it had for several other parks, but instead it announced an exciting development in the renovation process – Forest Hills was one of four playgrounds selected by DC Play to be renovated through a team effort between DPR and the Trust for Public Land (TPL). The other three parks selected include Rose Park, Oxon Run, and Garrison Elementary School.
TPL is a very reputable 501(c)(3) that was founded over 40 years ago with the mission of conserving land for parks and gardens. The organization has extensive experience in community outreach through park development throughout the country, with some of its biggest success stories in urban areas, including New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Kent Whitehead, who is TPL’s lead on the Forest Hills project, was at the December meeting to provide an overview of the organization’s work and next steps. He noted that TPL especially prides itself on engaging children in the design process. Its goal is to “facilitate a design and renovation of the park that meets the community’s needs using a process to bring together a variety of groups, different ages, and taking into
account other public goals, so that the final playground and park is the best that it can be for the Forest Hills community,” Whitehead explained.
ANC Commissioner Sally W. Gresham has been working closely with DPR and TLP, helping advise on ways to move forward with engaging the community, including reaching out to local leaders, neighborhood publications like the Forest Hills Connection, neighborhood organizations like the Friends of Forest Hills Playground, and other associations and nearby schools. She previously worked on one of the initial renovations of Forest Hills Playground years ago, and most recently helped with the Murch Elementary School playground renovation.
“In representing my ANC 3F04 constituents and the Forest Hills neighborhood as a whole, it is very exciting to have this partnership between the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Trust for Public Land working as a team on the revitalization and much needed renovation of the Forest Hills Playground and adjoining areas.” said Gresham. “Being one of the few public playgrounds in the city chosen to be part of the DPR/TLP partnership, our community should look forward to a productive and beneficial programming and planning phase with a functional as well as innovative design outcome for all generations using the Forest Hills Playground.”
For the March 19th ANC 3F meeting, Commissioner Gresham has arranged for an update on the renovation process from Sarah Moulton, DPR’s new Planning and Design Officer who is responsible for overseeing the renovation of the playgrounds being renovated under the DPR/TPL partnership.
Moulton and Whitehead also plan to hold three community meetings starting in early April. The first will be a ‘kick-off’ meeting focused on community outreach programming; the second will be the ‘Charrette Day‘ focused on working with the community on the design of the new playground; and the third meeting will be the ‘schematic design presentation.‘
While it is currently unclear when exactly the playground will close for construction or whether DC Play will still be able to meet its aggressive goal of completing the project by early fall, what is clear is that young children, families and neighbors of all ages have a very unique opportunity to work together to create a play space in Forest Hills for everyone to enjoy. But for now, most folks are just thrilled to be outside again enjoying the warmer weather.
Those interested in learning more about the playground’s renovation are strongly encouraged to attend the ANC 3F meeting Tuesday, March 19th, 7:30 p.m. at the Methodist Home on Connecticut Avenue between Ellicott and Fessenden Streets.
The Forest Hills Connection will provide updates announcing the dates and details of future meetings pertaining to the playground renovation once they become available.
For more information about TPL, please visit www.tpl.org.