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Dupont Circle’s Stead Park Athletic Field Redevelopment Soon to Start; Further Plans for Park’s Rehab Endorsed by Neighbors

Accompanying images can be viewed in the July 2014 issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

Dupont Circle’s only athletic playing field, the somewhat dilapidated “back forty” of the community’s beloved Stead Park, will soon be a sparkling, state-of-the-art park and recreational facility for the Dupont, Logan Circle, and other surrounding neighborhoods if all goes well with the execution of plans outlined by the Friends of Stead Park at a packed community meeting held last month in the spacious ballroom of the nearby Chastleton Condominium.

Activists and immediate residents peppered the assembled Friends’ group’s officers and board, which includes several Dupont Circle ANC commissioners, with questions and comments regarding community involvement in the planning effort for the restored and renovated facility, the Friends’ proposed entrance gates and access points to the field, the purpose and magnitude of the planned “pavilion” at the south end of the park, and the abysmal state of the brick, cobblestone, and concrete alleys surrounding the park’s playing field. The relatively unabated prevalence of rats in the field and in the immediate neighborhood also received unfavorable mention.

While these issues are certainly significant concerns, they pale in significance to the previous threats to the very continuation of SteadPark’s athletic playing field that provides an ideal site for a variety of community activities which have proven vital to the physical health and overall well-being of the residents who use the park.

Past threats to the park’s existence include recent efforts by powerful city forces to cede the field to a non-profit corporation that was planning to construct a commercial office building and several levels of underground parking at Stead to provide a cash stream for the support of its mission of the creation of a LGBT community center that would contractually control the park; its somewhat subterranean efforts were only thwarted by the community at the last moment. (See, “SteadPark 198-Year Lease Plan for Private Group Galvanizes Opponents Objecting to Public Land Disposal,” InTowner, August 2004 issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/m9p4lyw.)

Other serious efforts included proposals to re-open Church Street and cut the athletic playing field in half or move the recreation center from its historic building overlooking P Street to north of a re-established Church Street and place a smaller field adjacent to the children’s playgrounds and basketball court at the south (P Street) end.

Other proposals would have carved off sections of the playing field for dog runs and practice tracks for competition runners; another called for the total re-landscaping of the space to create a somewhat forested passive open space for activities focused on reading and meditation. Strenuous community opposition to such proposals defeated them.

Instead, adherence to the intent of the testamentary bequest of Robert Stead to the District for a park and recreational facility in honor of his first wife, Mary Force Stead — a park dedicated to the children of Washington, DC — together with the articulated wishes of the community, caused long-term plans to be developed for the redevelopment of the park to improve and further enhance its existing community activities. Included should be a refurbished basketball court, modern playgrounds for children, an augmented athletic playing field, trees and seating throughout, and, at a later point, an intent to plan and construct a transformed recreational center — either brand new or adaptive reuse of the existing structure.

These planning efforts were developed in close collaboration with Dupont Circle’s Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and staff and officials of the District’s parks and recreation (DPR) and general services (DGS) departments.

At what could have been a classically acrimonious community shout-out during the June 23rd neighborhood meeting between residents and city bureaucrats was instead a model expression of constructive, real-time collaboration between a gathering of concerned community members and those of a non-profit planning group — Friends of Stead Park — and staff and officials of those city agencies having statutory authority for park and recreational centers and for new construction and landscaping of such grounds and facilities.

The commanding presence and skillful conducting of the session by Christopher Dorment, president of the Friends group, who kept the meeting focused on its single scheduled purpose of hearing and answering questions and comments from the assembled community members, saved the day. His chairing of the session also kept the early evening meeting on schedule and, most importantly, he was able to lead the group into a successful resolution of the community’s major concerns.

These included the proposed additional (and new) entrance to the playing field from the stub of Church Street, that which proceeds west from 16th Street. This new entrance was opposed by the community because of the dangers presented both by busy alley traffic and by the blind exit onto the alley from the underground parking garage the Church Place condominium at the north corner of that intersection coupled with the sight lines obstructed by vehicular parking behind the Foundry United Methodist on the opposite intersection corner to the south. This playing field entrance was swiftly eliminated from the final park renovation plans.

The nature and purpose of the so-called “pavilion” was also strenuously debated. Dorment successfully convinced the questioners that the mis-named pavilion would be nothing more than a platform for use in the continuance of the type of activities already occurring in the park – that is, nothing new such as loud rock concerts; rather, a continuation of existing events and activities like the popular summer evening movies, daytime puppet shows for children, and the long-standing kickball games in the evening.

As far as plans for the recreation center, Dorment reminded the meeting that this is to be the third (of three) stages in the overall Stead Park transformation plan — the new children’s playgrounds and playing area being the first, with the athletic playing field being the second.

Dorment was greatly assisted in his calming of the crowd by the presence of large boards containing plans, drawings, and architectural renderings of the planned new playing field as pictured surrounded by attractive 10-foot high architectural fencing, 14-foot tall ash willow oak shade trees, a rubberized jogging track — all of this to be separated from the section of the park fronting P Street; the basketball court, the recreation center, a small hard service play area surrounded by alternating levels of concrete seats; age-specific children’s playgrounds and splash pool with a passive adult-seating section (with trees); and the platform mentioned above. These plans and drawings were prepared by landscape architect Dan Dove of Studio39 Landscape Architecture, who was in attendance. Dove’s plans were well-received by the community, characterized most often by those with whom this reporter spoke in a single word as “beautiful!”

Dorment closed the meeting — on time – by announcing that a community session on the planned construction schedule for the athletic playing field would be held within approximately a month, with a hoped-for August ground-breaking and a ribbon cutting opening the new playing field area in November.