by Mark Lieberman
Current Newspapers staff writer
The neighbors invested in the future of Hearst Park have many points of disagreement: whether or not the site needs a pool, how big the pool should be if one is built, what other changes should be considered and how the project should proceed. But they also agree on a few things: The park is in need of renovation, and any changes should be met with vigorous review and input.
At a community meeting with more than 50 attendees on Thursday [September 8], the Department of General Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation presented three different concept and design plans for the layout of the upgraded park, located just south of Hearst Elementary at 37th and Quebec streets NW. Agency representatives repeatedly assured residents that all current plans remain flexible and won’t be finalized until next spring.
The first layout option would replace one of the three existing tennis courts on the south end of the park with a new outdoor pool.
The second would tuck the pool into the slope adjacent to 37th Street on the park’s northern end, which appealed to several residents at the meeting because it keeps the noisiest parts of the park far away from nearby residences.
Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh told The Current on Tuesday [September 13] that she prefers this option, as well. But designers said they’re most fond of the third option, in which the pool and tennis courts would move to the park’s eastern edge, with the soccer field to the west.
That arrangement would leave room for a new flexible space whose use hasn’t been determined yet, adding what Tom Wheeler of Cox Graae + Spack Architects calls a “cool new dynamic.”
No matter the design, the project as envisioned by city officials will include a new pool, splash pad and pool house with restroom facilities; renovated fields and tennis courts; stormwater management and remediated site drainage; Americans with Disabilities Act compliance; and landscaping and aesthetic improvements.
The project team also hopes to achieve the lofty goal of outfitting the site with a net-zero setup, which means the amount of energy it consumes is equal to the amount of energy it generates. Agencies hope to begin the renovation of existing facilities in mid-2017 and conclude during the winter of 2017-18. The addition of an outdoor community pool, Ward 3’s first, would begin in fall 2018.
The dialogue between city officials and community members shifted at times during Thursday’s meeting to criticism of the existing park’s facilities, including a small number of bathrooms, poor sanitation, broken equipment and a general sense of disrepair.
“We’ve heard consistently that the park cannot be maintained and the facilities are not maintained. I would think that should be Priority One for this project, and it is not,” one resident argued Thursday. “I appreciate the attention to the design elements, but I do not have any confidence in the maintenance.”
Parks department deputy director Mziwandile Themba Masimini assured residents that a soon-to-be-signed memorandum of understanding between the agency and Hearst Elementary will allow for more student activity to be situated in the gym, rather than overcrowding the marginal accommodations in the park space.
The General Services Department’s Jackie Stanley said the new site’s maintenance needs will be addressed once plans have become more concrete. In the meantime, a shed next to the school will soon be removed and replaced with green space, Stanley said.
Cheh added her support during Thursday’s meeting for addressing maintenance needs. “I want this to be given a top priority,” she said. “We have waited too long, and promises have been made.”
Meanwhile, the pool continues to be divisive. All of the diagrams call for a pool with six lanes and a length of 25 yards. Some residents reported having heard earlier that the pool area could take up almost two acres of the park, but officials refuted those claims.
Concerns linger for some thatthe need for a Ward 3 pool doesn’toutweigh the negative consequences of housing it at Hearst. But others said they’re looking forward to taking kids to a modern pool within walking distance.
When pressed, officials didn’t rule out the possibility that the park could eventually be deemed unsuitable for a new pool facility, at which point the search for a pool location would begin anew. But, Masimini said, “We’re confident that those results aren’t going to come back.”
Cheh dismissed suggestionsfrom some residents that agencies look now for alternative locations.
“If there’s this groundswell that we should go ‘pie in the sky’ looking for some property somewhere, I’m just not sure that that satisfies what I understand to be a desire on the part of many residents to have an outdoor pool,” Cheh said.
Another community meeting is expected later this year. The parks department continues to investigate the site, coordinate with other agencies and nail down a concept.
© Current Newspapers