Support is growing for the city to start upgrading Stead Park’s field in fiscal year 2014 instead of 2015, as now proposed.
In the past week, area residents submitted more than six pages of comments to the DC Council Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, which met Monday. Many expressed urgency for the $1.6 million project — especially for area children. One neighborhood dad wrote:
“The Stead playground has been getting increasingly crowded over the last year. So much so that many toddlers spend their time as wall flowers, afraid to be trampled by parents or bigger kids… My 1.5 year old already does his best to escape from me and play in traffic. Please accelerate the timeline by a year so we can give him a green and safe place to play, before we (and our tax payments) have to move out to the suburbs in search of green space.”
He and other residents say that a safer and more multipurpose field is necessary as soon as possible so that children can safely use the field and relieve the congestion at the popular playground, which was last renovated in 2007.
At a DC Council hearing Monday, a neighborhood mom Kari Cunningham testified, “As a daily user of the crowded playground with my daughter, I have met many families from Columbia Heights, U Street, Mount Pleasant, and Adams Morgan — in addition to Logan Circle and Shaw — who all travel to use Stead Park’s wonderful playground,” but wish the large field was more community-friendly so older kids could have the option of playing and running there, especially when the playground is too full.
Stead’s one-acre field “is a rare expanse of green space in our developed, built-up part of the city… the whole community would love to have usable options in the field that they do not have today,” Cunningham told Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), chair of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs.
Martin Espinoza, founder of Stonewall Kickball, also testified and said that, “With renovations we could envision so many more groups playing within the space. Especially more youth sports, since the space is not safe or inviting for these groups to use during or after school.”
ANC 2B-04 Commissioner Kishan Putta, who organized the testimonies for Friends of Stead Park, said that after their testimony, Barry then said, “I am supportive, I just have to find a way to move the money from 2015 to 2014.”
The Friends of Stead Park are advocating that the funding be split over two years while the project moves in phases, with the goal of not interfering with regular warm weather sports uses.
The project is time-sensitive, other residents said in written comments, because there has been a “baby boom” in the area and many young families will soon be forced to consider moving away if there is not enough space for their children to play.
“We are not asking for a suburb-style square mile of fields and facilities,” one mother wrote, “but all little kids deserve to have some good neighborhood options for them. And if the only nearby option is always packed and the only acre of green space is not community-friendly, then, for our children’s sake, we may have to consider (gulp) leaving the neighborhood we love so dearly.”
The field is full of holes and has no seating or shade and doesn’t drain rain well, she wrote, but the new plans “would address the needs of the community and make productive a space that has been decidedly unproductive for too long.”
Putta said that more written comments are coming in daily. He said that the multipurpose field proposal is very popular because it would include a jogging/walking track around the perimeter, “for those who hate dodging traffic and lights on their jogs,” shade-giving trees and benches, puddle-proof turf (meaning fewer game cancellations), a splash park and a stage/pavilion for films and concerts.
“These plans are not overly costly,” he said, “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 and faith that the city wants to support their families and keep them here.”
The renovation of the park continues gathering support as Putta received an email from Councilmenber Jim Graham saying, “I will do what I can.” Jesus Aguirre, the director of Dept of Parks and Recreation said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show after a caller asked about Stead Park: “We’re looking at creative ways to try to accelerate that implementation,” and “we are working with a very active Friends group and community.”
The budget gets finalized later this month and supporters are asking the community to email their requests to their Councilmembers — and/or to [email protected] to be forwarded on (please include your approximate address and why you feel the field upgrades should begin this year).