Deanwood Recreation Center and Library Opens to Rave Reviews

James Wright | 6/30/2010, 11:03 a.m.
Gray, Alexander Fume over Snub by Mayor's Office...
Hundreds of visitors attended the grand opening of the Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast, Fri., June 21. The 63,000 square-foot facility boasts a swimming pool with the District's first ever water slide. Photo by Latfayette Barnes, IV

Gray, Alexander Fume over Snub by Mayor's Office

A state-of-the-art recreation facility recently opened in one of the city's most historic and least developed neighborhoods of the District with fanfare from city officials and residents but not without considerable controversy.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Deanwood Recreation and Library Center in Northeast along with actor Anwan Glover of HBO's The Wire, acting D.C. Parks and Recreation Center Director Jesus Aguirre, D.C. Public Libraries Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, D.C. Board of Education member Dorothy Douglas and Deanwood Civic Association Vice President Yvonne Johnson, Fri., June 25.
"This $32 million building is the biggest recreation center in the city and is located in Deanwood," Fenty, 39, said during the grand opening that attracted about 400 visitors.

"The community has been adamant that we build this center and we have."

The 63,000-square-foot facility boasts a swimming pool with the District's first ever water slide, locker rooms for men and women, a gymnasium that will be used primarily for basketball and volleyball, a full-service kitchen, a game room with pool tables, an area for senior citizens, a music studio, a fitness center, study rooms and a 7,500-square-foot library with 20 computers, a space for children's activities and a capacity for 25,000 books.

The facility is across the street from the Deanwood Metro Station and Deanwood Elementary School.

Fenty said that the facility is one "that the residents of Deanwood would be proud of for years to come."

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) did not attend the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Gray represented the Deanwood area as a D.C. council member from 2005 until 2007. Alexander currently represents the ward.

Both Gray and Alexander arrived after the ceremony and the chairman, who is challenging Fenty for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor in September, wasn't happy that he missed the ribbon-cutting.

He said that the mayor's staff had changed the time of the ceremony without notifying him.

"I think it was completely inappropriate for the mayor to change the time of the ribbon-cutting without letting me know," Gray, 67, said.

Alexander, 48, had no comment on the matter however; bystanders noted that she was obviously livid about not being present for the official grand opening. Later that day, Alexander announced that there would be "another ribbon-cutting" and urged residents to support Gray for mayor.

When Ronald Moten, a Fenty supporter pointed out that her support for Gray on city property was a violation of the Hatch Act, she summarily dismissed him by saying "whatever."

Despite the political tension, Gray appeared pleased with the new recreation center in the District.

"This project has special significance to me because it was one of the projects I helped launch as the Ward 7 council member," he said.

"As chairman of the Council, I was pleased to have shepherded to passage a number of pieces of legislation to keep the new building on track. They include the necessary funding bills, even the revised fiscal year 2010 budget the Council passed just weeks ago that included $4.6 million to complete the development so the opening would not be delayed."

Gray, a Ward 7 resident, said that the building is a "great asset not only to the community but to the District of Columbia."

"It is the nicest facility of its kind in the Washington metropolitan area," he said.

"I wholeheartedly congratulate the Deanwood Civic Association and other citizens who collaborated on this magnificent structure and I applaud the steadfast advocacy to get the best facility worthy and fitting of Ward 7."

The Deanwood section of the city is roughly bounded by Sheriff Road on the West, Eastern Avenue on the northeast, Division Avenue on the east and Nannie Helen Burroughs on the south.

It was once considered a suburb of central Washington in the early part of the 20th century. A predominantly Black area since the 1940s, it was a middle-class haven with its own movie theater, grocery stores, barber and beauty shops, clothing stores, schools and churches.

Historians considered the neighborhood to be a self-sufficient, close-knit Black community.

However, the scenario started to change in Deanwood around the 1960s, when Blacks who could afford it left the District and moved to Prince George's County and low-income residents flocked to the area from other parts of the city to live. Deanwood is now considered a working class community plagued by high crime rates, low homeownership, a low-level of economic development and struggling schools.

Alexander said that Deanwood is slated to be re-developed and points to the facility and its location next to the Deanwood Metro as an example of change.

"Development has already begun and this facility is a part of that piece of the action," she said.