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Champlain Street Re-opening Leaves Major Elements of Promised Improvements Undone

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

Recent below freezing temperatures and harsh, blustery winds failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Adams Morgan and Reed-Cooke residents, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and Mayor Adrian Fenty who gathered at the Marie Reed Learning Center to celebrate the formal reopening of the block of Champlain Street that runs beneath the covered walkway bridge connecting the two multi-purpose parts of the sprawling and under-utilized Center. (For an earlier report about this project, see, “Champlain Street in Adams Morgan to Re-open; Neighbors Welcome Enhanced Streetscape Design,” InTowner, March 2009, page 1.)

Long a dark and neglected site — one whose lack of basic maintenance or landscaping projected a sense of bleak abandonment, Marie Reed has taken on the institutional appearance of repellant brick and concrete walls and prison-style front doors. For many, the exterior appearance of these facilities along Champlain, which includes an indoor swimming pool, a full court gymnasium, a large recreation center, a medical and dental clinic, a daycare facility, and a large and increasingly successful elementary school, has created a magnet for crime, vandalism, and the congregating of the homeless.

With the completion of the new roadway and streetscape, this block of Champlain now projects a handsomely reconstructed passageway for school buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and, when school is not in session, one-way automobile traffic. Streetscape improvements include wide sidewalks, protective bollards, improved lighting, and a decoratively colored tile mosaic on the ADA-compliant ramp leading to the clinic within the facility. A tree canopy and landscaping may follow.

Not yet done, however, were the surrounding improvements promised to the community as part of this larger project — improvements deemed critical to the creation of a safe and aesthetically pleasing space. These concerns were concisely summarized in a press release issued by Adams Morgan ANC Commissioner Bryan Weaver that was distributed at the Mayor’s press conference, which states in part:

“Despite countless assurances at public and private meetings by government officials and despite repeated resolutions from ANC1C requesting these enhancements be part of the project, today there remains a laundry-list of unmet promises. [These include]:

“1 Replacement of the green doors at the Champlain Street entrance to the recreation center with more welcoming, working door treatments that include windows which provide public access to the building when it’s open;

“2. Removal of the brick that covers the windows to the swimming pool;

“3. Inclusion of murals by Adams Morgan artists, and neighborhood youth: Adjacent to the entrance to the indoor pool; and along the wall of the former handball court to replace the one that was painted over;

“4. As consistent with best use, an additional handicapped ramp allowing access to the Community of Hope Health Clinic on the side of the newly installed driveway and lay-by adjacent to Old Morgan School Place;

“5. Construction of solid waster collection area using two trash chutes into a dedicated collection point on the South portion of the breezeway — the chutes are needed for the safety of the late night custodial staff of the school, who have been the victims of assaults while taking out trash from the facility.”

The two dumpsters and a recycling bin that were under the covered walkway have simply been repositioned to an even more prominent position at the corner of Champlain and Old Morgan School Place, and no mention was made of the Marie Reed’s derelict athletic playing field, which remains a pothole-filled open space that sees little use.

The actual streetscape project, which is one of the District’s Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) singular successes, was to have been completed no later than September, 2009 — this to allow for traffic alleviation on neighboring 18th Street between Florida Avenue and Adams Mill Road, which is the second and much larger part of an integrated Adams Morgan streetscape improvement project for one of the community’s two central commercial and transportation cores, and planned to have begun the following month.

Both of these efforts have been doggedly championed by Councilmember Graham, the Adams Morgan ANC, civic and business associations, and the public at large. All eagerly await more walkable and wider sidewalks, the shade and attractiveness of a tree canopy, good street lighting and better traffic signals, bicycle lanes, and traffic calming techniques along this celebrated stretch of 18th Street.

Complicating these efforts to press for early project completion has been the time necessary for Pepco to complete its part of the first stage Champlain project and the time needed to complete Pepco’s complex plans and drawings for the electrical work and underground cabling and facilities in a planned reconstruction of the 18th Street roadbed. These plans require coordination with those of DDOT, its subcontractors, and the other DC public utilities, all of which must plan and prepare written specifications for this ambitious and community endorsed undertaking, one that has been developed and seemingly endlessly vetted over the past five years — most recently at a July, 2009 standing room only community forum conducted by Councilmember Graham and DDOT.

Start date for the 18th Street project component now seems in doubt. The most recent date was announced in the recent issue of the Adams Morgan Main Street newsletter as being set for March or April, 2010, according to Main Street Executive Director Lisa Duperier. January, 2010 meetings in Graham’s office with DDOT and Pepco, and at the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District’s Executive Board meeting, will no doubt further refine this prospective start date.