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While D.C. Council members prepared to hear public comment about District recreation centers this week, dozens of young basketball players from Emery Heights Recreation Center continued to play at a nearby recreation center while two city agencies coordinate the repairs on a broken air conditioning system.  

In the weeks leading up to the basketball camp’s move to Riggs-LaSalle Recreation Center in Northeast, more than 70 children and teenagers enrolled in Emery Heights’ summer programming spent several hours a day in the gymnasium and meeting spaces without cool circulation, even as outside temperatures surpassed 90 degrees. 

By the end of June, after a group of parents noticed and complained, DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) shut down Emery Heights’ entire second floor, brought in fans and portable air conditioning units and shifted summer programming. While the basketball camp operates nearly two miles away,  toddlers in the Little Explorers Camp frolic in the indoor basketball court while a group of DC Summer Youth Employment Program participants spend much of their time on assignments throughout the city. 

Last Thursday, as he picked up his son from Emery Heights Recreation Center, a Northwest father lamented the lack of communication about the basketball camp’s location change. He said he had adjusted his work schedule because of the shuttle rides to and from Riggs-Lasalle Recreation Center that reduced young people’s time on the court each day. 

“It was an inconvenience at first [because] I was looking for my son,” said the father who requested anonymity. “The city should’ve let parents know. I have to spend more gas to come back. They usually don’t have to be picked up until 6 p.m.  It’s a straight shot from Silver Spring then up New Hampshire Avenue for [my son’s] brother.” 

DPR and Department of General Service (DGS) representatives estimate the delivery of a blower wheel and exhaust fan for the broken HVAC system at Emery Heights to happen before the end of July. 

Weeks before parents at Emery Heights coalesced around this issue, community members at Eastern Senior High School in Northeast approached city officials about the lack of air conditioning in the school gym that threatened the school’s “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser on July 2. 

Since the end of spring break, a chorus of community members at other District schools have raised similar concerns about broken HVAC systems. Many of the complaints have been levied at DGS and At-large D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D) who oversees the agency.  

Over the last few months, DGS completed nearly 120 work orders related to air conditioning units at District schools. A DGS spokesperson said the agency has recently experienced supply-chain issues that often delay the delivery of parts needed to conduct HVAC repairs. This year, DGS  assessed HVAC units at all 117 District public schools, created a database and assigned managers who conduct checks. The agency has also put in place a contingency plan through which affected facilities receive spot coolers, window air conditioning units and fans. 

Even so, some people, like D.C. Councilmember Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), have demanded answers and a faster response. Last week, she conducted a tour of Emery Heights Recreation Center, located along Georgia Avenue in Northwest. Her visit took place months after her summer readiness walk-through at Emery Heights in May. 

Emery Heights Recreation Center hosts year-round athletics, enrichment, youth and senior programming. For decades, it has attracted families in the surrounding communities in search of athletic opportunities for their children.  

Despite Emery Heights’ HVAC issues, one parent said she has no issues with the programming. As she picked up her daughter from the Little Explorers Camp, she spoke with great anticipation about their conversation while on the way home.  

“My daughter is comfortable and happy. It just doesn’t feel like it’s a day care,” Ms. Wade said. “She’s showing me things she did throughout the day. I didn’t know in the beginning that they had to hold day care in the gym. I’m comfortable that they came to a resolution [even though] they didn’t communicate. Parents jumped on it on June 29.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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