Fate of Randall Recreation Center in Flux Current Situation
For several years Randall Recreation Center at South Capitol and I streets SW has been underutilized. Next door to the recreation center are a community pool, tennis and basketball courts, ball fields, a playground, and a forlorn plaza area. While the ball fields, pool, and sports courts are heavily used, the 7,000 square-foot recreation center is devoid of programming. KanKouran West African Dance Company uses the center as a practice facility. There have been efforts by local organizations, such as the Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC), to get financing and bring programming to the center. To bring more attention to Randall, Eve Brooks, CBCC’s Enrichment Committee Chair, convened several stakeholders starting last summer including the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA)Youth Activities Task Force, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 6D), developers, and the Community Liaison from Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells’ office.
Renovations Currently Planned
Meanwhile, funding has been secured by the Gray administration’s “Play DC” initiative to build a new playground and renovate the plaza area to make the entrance to the recreation facility more inviting and user-friendly, with construction to occur later this year. Randall is one of 32 sites across the city to receive funding for new playgrounds in 2013.
With the support of Council Member Wells the District Department of Parks and Recreation was scheduled to release a request for proposals (RFP) to select a nonprofit provider of services to Randall back in November 2012. Some of the programs envisioned for Randall include those for young mothers and infant/toddlers, an after-school drop-in center for teenagers, and services for adults such as financial management, family counseling, and a variety of classes. Sasha Bruce Youth Works has expressed interest in bidding on the RFP and running the recreation center; however, the RFP has been delayed for several months. The court-appointed receiver for SW House, a defunct nonprofit, is willing to provide between $250,000 and $300,000 of funding for a nonprofit to operate the center, but the delay in releasing the RFP is jeopardizing the use of these funds.
Next door to the Randall Recreation Center complex is Randall Junior High School, which was shuttered several years ago and is currently being proposed as a mixed-use complex by Telesis/Rubell. Telesis/Rubell (the Rubell family also owns the Capitol Skyline Hotel across the street from the recreation center) bought the former school from the Corcoran and plans to bring a contemporary art museum and restaurants to the historic buildings as well as build 400,000 square feet of apartments and townhouses. An updated Planned Unit Development application is being filed for the project, which will be designed by Bing Thom, the same architect who designed the expansion of Arena Stage. Telesis’ Marilyn Melkonian has pledged to find financing to renovate the recreation center at Randall.
KIPP DC Vision
Another interested party in the future of Randall Recreation Center is KIPP DC, which proposes to build a LEED-certified charter high school designed by Studios Architecture on the site of the recreation center along South Capitol Street SW that will initially accommodate 650 students. There would be space on the ground level for a facility potentially run by Georgetown University Medicine and a gymnasium. In addition KIPP would refurbish the Randall pool, convert the ball fields to turf fields, move the basketball courts to the northwest corner of the site, and build a community center and pool house adjacent to the pool. The community would have access to the fields when not in use by KIPP, which would have priority usage during practice times, games, and physical education class time, although not all of the fields will likely be used at the same time during school hours. DPR would be in charge of delegating field usage as it does currently. KIPP does not have plans to use the pool and it would be available for community use while it is open for the summer season. The tennis courts would be lost under the proposal. KIPP has an ambitious schedule and plans to deliver the new school by the summer of 2014.
According to Lindsay Kelly from KIPP DC, the drop-off zones and entrances to the school will be located on an internal street accessed from I Street SW, and students will take public transit to reach the campus. “We will have staff monitoring arrival and dismissal, school resource officers, and a security team in place to ensure the safety of our students,” said Kelly. “Our students are well versed in traveling to and from school and are reminded to do so in a respectful manner.” As far as any concerns from students overwhelming the McDonalds across the street, KIPP has contingency plans for that as well. “At each site where our schools are located, we work with local businesses to ensure that they have our contact information and feel comfortable reaching out to us with questions and concerns,” said Kelly.
Small Area Plan
At the same time that this is all happening, the Office of Planning is preparing to embark on a Small Area Plan for Southwest at the behest of Council Member Wells. There is a large amount of public land in SW, including the Randall Recreation Center site, and typically a Small Area Plan provides residents, land owners, developers, city officials, and District agencies with a framework and recommendations to guide future development. The Small Area Plan will take about eight months to complete, but development can still move forward while the plan is underway. ANC 6D voted to support the creation of the Small Area Plan and stipulated that no decisions be made on the Randall Recreation Center site until it is completed. SWNA supports the measure as well. The CBCC also supports the creation of the Small Area Plan, as long as it doesn’t preclude continuing negotiations with KIPP DC, Telesis/Rubell, or any other interested parties in the Randall Recreation Center site.
KIPP’s Critics and Supporters
However, KIPP’s plans are incompatible with those of the developers of the former Randall Junior High School site next door. In addition, the Randall Recreation Center could be designated a historic landmark as one of the few remaining buildings predating urban renewal, which could complicate KIPP DC’s plans. Steve Tanner owns a church building next door to Randall and is planning to collaborate with the Telesis/Rubell team on development. Tanner is dismayed by the manner in which KIPP is going about obtaining Randall. “I believe it is improper for KIPP to go to DC officials and attempt to back door an opportunity for themselves,” said Tanner. “There was no public process. They have attempted to have the DC Government prepare an RFP specifically tailored for them, thereby effectively eliminating any other competitive bids or otherwise avoid possibly sensational proposals for this property next to Rubell's planned world-class art museum.”
So far, no community group has supported the KIPP DC proposal including Capitol Park IV condominiums next door. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Felicia Couts, President of the Capitol Park IV Condominium Association board, expressed the board’s support of the Small Area Plan. “We support the long-term, comprehensive Small Area Impact Plan resolution unanimously adopted by our Advisory Neighborhood Commission earlier this year,” she declared. “We are not anti-KIPP DC. We are simply advocating for the exhaustion of other land options for the school, including reusing recently closed DC public school buildings and private lands.”
In a recent letter to the Mayor and DC Council, the majority of commissioners on ANC 6D wrote that Southwest “does not support turning over the land at Randall Recreation to KIPP prior to completion of OP’s Southwest Small Area Plan.” They continued: “These are the facts. Planning is a result of a fully articulated and transparent community engagement process. And it is precisely the community engagement process – a major plank in your 2010 campaign for Mayor – that we hope you will continue to uphold. If a KIPP high school belongs at Randall, let a proper planning process lead the way and not a couple of well-placed phone calls to the City Administrator’s Office and relentless editorializing by The Washington Post. That is simply not the way to do business in Washington. Not any longer.”
Meanwhile two ANC commissioners support KIPP DC’s proposal and have sent their own letter of support to the Mayor and Council. In their letter of support Commissioners David Garber and Ed Kaminski stated that the Randall site “has been a place for learning and recreation for over 100 years.” They noted that while the school building on the site “is planned to become a residential and arts-based mixed-use project,” students attending the nearby Amidon-Bowen Elementary, Jefferson Middle, and other schools would gain “new recreation programming and resources at the Randall fields, and KIPP’s Capital Teaching Residency program has committed to working with Amidon-Bowen and Jefferson to develop a partnership that would place high-performing teachers in their classrooms. As partner school site, Amidon-Bowen and Jefferson would also gain access to the Capital Teaching Residency’s award-winning professional development opportunities and resources.”
Due to KIPP DC’s timeline for construction and other considerations, a resolution to this situation will most likely occur sooner rather than later. Delays have already caused the loss of funds for the playground and plaza renovation and could further deplete funds available from the receiver of SW House.