Kimberly Perry and Reverend Wendy Hamilton. (Courtesy photos)

By Kimberly Perry and Rev. Wendy Hamilton

Mayor Bowser has proposed $750,000 to retrofit underused basketball and tennis courts for pickleball in her 2024 fiscal year budget. She has also boosted funding for recreational facilities and programs throughout the city–significantly so in Ward Eight. At face value, that’s excellent news. However, shockingly wide disparities currently exist that leave many communities without safe, clean, functional parks and recreation centers. 

The current spotlight on public safety in the District–especially when violent crime seems to involve youth so often–is a clear reminder of the need for more community spaces where children and youth can engage in constructive activities outside school hours. 

The $4 million proposed for Fort Greble Park in Ward Eight could be game-changing. The doors of the recreation center have been locked for four years, with all programs and activities canceled, so the follow-through matters more now than ever. 

Fort Greble has basketball courts and a baseball diamond. But the lights haven’t worked for years. No one can play ball in the evening. The community garden is overgrown with weeds and littered with discarded furniture. When children from Leckie Elementary School and an early childhood education center adjacent to the park want to play on the fields, they must watch out for trash and dog poop. 

Before the mayor’s budget release, we learned that $2 million was allocated for Ft. Greble’s renovation in the District’s 2021 budget. Work was to begin in August 2022 and be completed that December. The project included the construction of a new recreation center, a demonstration garden and kitchen, picnic areas, and more. When we pressed for details on what happened, we learned that the contractor assigned to the renovation canceled the contract after deciding the project would cost more than $2 million. 

Meanwhile, only $900,000 of the $2 million previously allocated for Fort Greble is still on hand. Where did the rest of the money go? Thankfully Ward Eight Councilmember Trayon White heard our request to investigate this situation and is following through. The community wants to know where the money for our park went and why rising inflation is a scapegoat for the lengthy delay in bringing decent amenities to this corner of Ward Eight. 

Hundreds of children, families, and elders live within a few blocks of Fort Greble and deserve a decent place to come together. Ward Eight residents want their councilmember, Trayon White (Chair of the Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs Committee), and the Department of Parks and Recreation to follow through on their commitment to restoring the park and recreation center so members of the community can have a safe, welcoming place to gather. Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council must ensure equity with investments that provide all residents with safe places to play, learn, and grow together. 

Mayor Bowser and D.C. Councilmembers, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of General Services, we’re looking forward to seeing a new Fort Greble soon. We’re not asking for anything luxurious, just equitable treatment and a safe place for the community to gather. 

Kimberly Perry is the executive director of D.C. Action. Reverend Wendy Hamilton is chair of the ANC8D Commission.