Fields Of (Broken) Dreams: Jelleff & Ellington

For hours on October 21, supporters of Maret–the private school with whom DC’s department of parks and recreation (DPR) recently signed a 9-year extension of a previous 10-year, exclusive use agreement for prime hour use of the publicly owned field Jelleff–testified to the DC council about the brutal way in which their school had been characterized around renewal of their exclusive use agreement. Referencing “misinformation” and organized PR campaigns against the school and the agreement, the testimony was damning.

Unfortunately, it also missed the real villain and the real victims, the latter of which comprise a variety of DCPS sports programs–with perhaps the most notable being (wait for it) baseball.

As the October 21 hearing made clear, several public schools that use Jelleff (including Hardy, across the street) have very limited access to it as a result of the Maret agreement, while having little or no field space of their own. As a consequence, some DCPS sports teams are constantly bused far for even “home” games–with no accounting of the costs borne by the public.

DPR held one public meeting, in May, about the Jelleff use agreement extension, during which it apparently said it was not in a hurry to sign the agreement. But a few weeks later, DPR signed the extension without public notice, while both DPR and the mayor never responded to ANC resolutions against it.

DPR has characterized its 9-year extension as a natural part of its original 10-year agreement, which provided that Maret, in exchange for renovation of the turf field, would have exclusive access to the most in demand hours at Jelleff.

Disturbingly, both the original agreement as well as the new one are sole source, no bid contracts below the $1 million threshold for council review. They are also less than the 20-year minimum for council review.

So it was that all oversight by the public regarding the use of Jelleff amounted to that one October 21 hearing, during which the public interest was, well, treated pretty shabbily.

Indeed, the entire conversation around Jelleff recalls the disturbing way that the mayor and a host of other public officials treated Shaw residents who had wanted a middle school of right in Shaw once again. In both cases, the desire of the public to retain their right to a public asset in their midst was cast as misguided at best–and a direct impediment to progress at worst.

What makes the Jelleff deal even more perplexing (well, other than a private school paying for exclusive access to a public asset) is the fact that both DPR and its supporters suggested at the hearing that the Ellington field several blocks away could solve the problem of field access for the public in that area of the city–provided Ellington would be renovated.

Sounds good–until you start looking at it and realize that, among other things, it ignores entirely both the public interest and, of all things, baseball.

That is, Ellington has a large field and a large track–but no baseball diamond, like Jelleff does. Theoretically, Ellington does have space to have a baseball diamond.

If it had no track.

In other words, absent getting rid of Ellington’s track, there is no public baseball field in that area except for Jelleff. Which continues to be under the new, 9-year agreement, which apparently no one anywhere in DC government is committed to changing.

Funnily enough, given DC’s role in the world series, baseball didn’t really get much of a mention at the Jelleff hearing on October 21.

Yet earlier this year, the mayor attempted to hand over the Ellington field–which is currently controlled by DCPS–to DPR. Although various officials testified at the October 21 hearing that this has not yet been done, just the other day several council members wrote to the mayor, demanding that this happen–and fast! The idea is that Ellington will stand in for what is lost at Jelleff under the Maret agreement, with DPR acting as a sort of publicly funded beneficent spirit of DC fields and play space for both public AND private interests. Win win!

Sadly, that letter the council members sent makes no mention whatsoever of the existing public high school that actually controls the actual Ellington field. (Yes, that would be Duke Ellington high school.) Nor did the letter articulate the needs and desires of that school, much less those of the community, as shown in the hearing. (An ANC commissioner and citizens’ association head provide good examples here and here, respectively.)

[NB: the DC council video of this hearing doesn’t appear to be working at the time of this blog post, but you can access the complete hearing video here, at the office of cable TV; the clips referenced above start at 23:13 and 1:05:05, respectively.]

The council members’ letter furthermore neglected to mention that Jelleff alone is the only place where public school teams can play baseball in that area, absent Ellington field undergoing a radical change in its use and configuration (which, naturally, appears not to have been discussed anywhere, at least publicly).

Think this through for a moment:

A city agency, DPR, that inked a deal completely out of public view and oversight to make a public field less accessible to the public is now being asked by public officials to take over a field held by another public agency–with not only no money pledged to renovate that field, but also no mention of the actual public school that is connected to it; no thought as to what it can, and cannot, accommodate; and no apparent connection to any school planning.


Ironically (or not), one of the council members to sign that letter, Elissa Silverman, demanded during the October 21 hearing that DPR turn over a list of its properties under agreements similar to that between DPR and Maret at Jelleff. Silverman noted during the hearing that she had asked DPR to provide that list of private/public partnership agreements weeks before the hearing and said she was angered by DPR not providing it.

Yet, Silverman’s office has of this date not yet received it—and told me that they expect to get it by November 8.

[Update: On November 14, I received the DPR list of private/public partnership agreements from Silverman’s office. See it here. Interestingly, despite the fact that there is no other agreement in the city like that for Maret at Jelleff, DPR’s accompanying letter references the ANC as if the ANC was in approval of its handing over Jelleff to Maret for the next decade. That overlooks what the ANC actually said here, and here, and here.]

So, in summary:

Some of our elected leaders want an agency that has, literally, blown off the public (and at least one elected leader) to take over a school field that is part of a current public school’s amenities, to serve the apparent goal of better accommodating the use of another public field by a private school–all the while continuing to limit the use of that other public field by the public.

I was going to remark about how we here in DC don’t really need Donald Trump with leaders like this. But there’s really only one word to describe this situation: Sad.

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