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Dupont Circle’s Stead Park Athletic Field Redevelopment Seen as Near With Funding Now in City Budget for Start in the Fall

Accompanying images can be viewed in the June 2013 issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a classic example of how the District of Columbia’s budgetary and legislative process should ideally work, a $1.6 million line item was included in the Mayor’s proposed multi-year capital budget –- and advanced with initial Council approval on May 22nd for the fiscal year that begins on October 1st — for completion of the final renovation and redevelopment phase of Dupont Circle’s Mary Force Stead Park.

This project, which we reported on last year (“Planning Progresses for Implementing Phase Two of Dupont East’s Stead Park; Rehab of Athletic Field to be the Focus,” April 2012, http://tinyurl.com/l6bstfz), will bring about a dramatic re-making of the one-acre athletic playing field which lies at the back of the 1½-acre park fronting on P Street between 16th and 17th Streets, and would follow earlier phases which saw the construction of two attractive and already heavily used children’s playgrounds, a renovated outdoor basketball court, and a central shaded seating area constructed around a small artificial turf grass playing area for small children. These improvements, together with those to the park’s recreation center building, are all located in the half-acre front portion facing P Street.

The process began with simultaneous planning efforts on the part of the Mayor, the Council, and the Dupont Circle ANC following the advice and counsel by such community organizations and individuals as the Friends of Stead Park, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA), and the many users of the park — especially parents of small children who use the playgrounds and athletic teams that play kickball, soccer, rugby, and softball on the athletic playing field, the only such field in Dupont Circle and one that has sadly deteriorated over the years.

In addition to sad state of the field itself, it is bereft of any seating, is without a single tree, and becomes a muddy mess after a rainfall. The Friends of Stead Park, who work closely with the supportive assistance of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and his staff, using the resources of the Stead Historic Trust Fund established by Robert Stead in honor of his first wife Mary, engaged the firm of Studio 39 Architecture to prepare a detailed plan and cost estimates for a re-make of the athletic playing field into a more state-of-the-art, multi-purpose, multi-use facility.

This was done in an iterative process, engaging the community and the ANC in public meetings and resulting in revisions to the plan as the responses of individual neighbors and groups were molded into a single proposal, which was then formally considered and unanimously endorsed by the ANC.

With the Mayor having directed the community — when questioned about accelerating the Stead Park funding during the Ward 2 town hall meeting in April on the fiscal year 2014 budget — to work with his officials to make that happen, the stage was set.

Although the community proposed that the City Council act to provide for flexibility in the Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) use of the capital funds between fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015 to allow the expenditure of half the $1.6 million in 2014 and the other half in 2015, the Council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Community Affairs which is chaired by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry voted instead to include the entire $1.6 million in fiscal year 2014, and the full Council voted to endorse that approach. As a result, this will allow planning and construction throughout the 2014 fiscal year.

An estimated $150,000 from the Stead Trust, together with a community benefit amount of $220,000 from the developers of the nearly completed 1660 Rhode Island planned unit development project will be available for the project and any additional maintenance needs.

As shown in the architectural plans and drawings, and as comprehensively and eloquently summarized by Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta in his testimony before Chairman Barry, “The plans include:

“(1) An artificial turf field; currently, the field is patchy, dirty, and unusably muddy after rains.

“(2) A jogging/walking track around the perimeter; residents are very excited about this -– a wonderful fitness option for those who dislike jogging on crowded streets. It will also be useful for children to develop fitness and reduce obesity.

“(3) Shade trees and benches; currently there are no trees and no shade or seating on the field, making it particularly unattractive in summer months.

“(4) A splash-park for children to cool off in during hot days; to save water, it will only operate when needed and will turn off automatically.

“(5) A stage for community concerts, plays, and films; parents are already organizing to fill this cultural opportunity for the community.”

Continuing with his testimony, Putta stated, “These plans are not very costly; however, they will provide incalculable benefits to the growing community. Families are growing frustrated with the lack of space and options for them. They came to our public meetings, they have submitted comments for your consideration . . . and they are paying attention. Beginning the project this year will give them confidence that their children will have adequate space and opportunities within the next year or two.”

Delaying the project until the fall of 2014,” Putta concluded, “will be a blow to their faith in the city to support their families. Our shared goal of retaining young families to stay and raise their children in the city will be tougher to achieve.”

And the Committee agreed. It included the following language in its Committee Report:

“Stead Park -– In the Mayor’s FY14 capital budget he added 1.6 million in funds for the enhancement and renovation of Stead Park in 2015. While the Committee applauds the Mayor for funding this initiative the community and advocates of Stead Park are ready now for the much needed project. The Friends of Stead Park have already hired a landscape architecture firm and have detailed plans of the new design for the park. In order to not slow down the major progress of advocates the committee recommends that 1.6 million of funding be moved into the FY14 budget so that the project can begin in the next fiscal year.”

Moving this money for the final phase forward into the budget for the fiscal year starting in October serves to protect the $1.6 million from competing budget pressures when the following year’s operating and capital budgets are to be presented by the Mayor to the DC Council for enactment, and thus will allow for immediate preliminary planning actions once the budget approval process passes its June 18th final, formal vote.

And with its May 22nd preliminary vote on a slightly revised version of the Mayor’s budget proposal, the full Council approved incorporating the movement of funds from the 2015 fiscal year to that of 2014. There is the expectation that the Mayor will enthusiastically affirm these community desires and council decisions when he signs the budget legislation following the Council’s final vote on June 18th.