Contractors will soon place the finishing touches on the plot of land that includes KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory and Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center. It will not only include both buildings but a football and baseball field, basketball court, community garden and playground.
This culminates a process guided, in part, by discussions between KIPP officials and Washington Highlands community members three years ago after KIPP purchased the former Ferebee-Hope Elementary School on 8th Street in Southeast.
However, an increasing chorus of community members contend KIPP hasn’t kept up its end of the bargain for Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center. Qualms center on the installment of a nearby 5G tower and the reduction of an indoor pool and the loss of the tennis court, boxing ring and other longtime amenities exclusive to the recreation center.
“KIPP promised us one thing but they gave us nothing. The only thing they were concerned about was building the damn school,” said Karlene “Kay” Armstead, former commissioner of ANC 8E06, the single member district that includes Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center.
In 2019, Armstead counted among several people who attended community meetings about the eventual launch of KIPP DC Legacy, the third KIPP campus to open in Southeast. As part of the agreement KIPP entered with the District government, acquiring and transforming the former Ferebee-Hope Elementary School obligated them to upgrade the accompanying recreation center.
In total, $13.5 million had been earmarked for the demolition and rebuilding of Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center. Before KIPP acquired the accompanying elementary school, the District government financed the installation of cameras and lighting for Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center.
To the chagrin of Armstead and other community members, the construction project significantly reduced the capacity of the recreation center by half. She likened the new swimming pool to a kiddie pool, calling it unfit for accommodating the swathes of community members who frequent Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center during the summer.
In regard to the baseball field, skating rinks and other parts of what has been referred to as the pavilion, Armstead said community members have been kept in the dark about the development of the outside space which will soon be known as the Washington Nationals Philanthropies’ fourth legacy field.
As the clock ticks on the completion of the campus wide revamp, residents attempting to enter the recreation center through Condon Terrace said they find it difficult with walls impeding their access.
“We’re having a lot of issues and we need someone who’s going to fix it,” Armstead said. “All we have is five rooms. We can’t even put a professional-sized pool table inside. We had a full basketball court. We had a full boxing gym. All that’s gone.”
Addressing Community Concerns
KIPP, the District’s largest charter school network, has a presence in the eastern portion of the city. KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory opened in the fall of 2019 as KIPP’s eighth campus. It serves students between grades 9 and 12.
A virtual meeting between KIPP, Washington Highlands community members, and Washington Nationals Philanthropies has been scheduled for March 10. Representatives of Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White’s office are expected to attend. The meeting will follow a walk-through conducted by White’s staff in late February.
Councilmember White declined to comment on the matter.
Jacque Patterson, KIPP DC’s chief community engagement and growth officer, said he first learned about community discontent with development projects from Councilmember White’s office in the aftermath of the walk-through.
Responding to concerns about reduction in recreation space, Patterson told The Informer that KIPP had no financial support from the District that allowed it to revamp Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center in a manner similar to what had been done for other D.C.-based recreation centers.
In speaking about the loss of the boxing facility and tennis courts, Patterson, who also serves as an at-large State Board of Education member, said community members will always have access to the resources on the newly revamped campus.
“There was an understanding that any amenities used by KIPP could be used by the community. That was the trade-off – you would lose an underutilized tennis court but gain a football field,” Patterson said.
“There were several meetings held for the process and I just heard concerns in the last couple of weeks. If people are unsatisfied, what kind of programming and collaboration can we do to make sure the community has what was missing or taken away?” he asked.
A Community Institution
Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center, named after District-based obstetrician and activist Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee and social worker Marion Conover Hope, remained open after the accompanying elementary school shuttered in 2013.
KIPP DC purchased and demolished the old building years later amid concerns about overcrowding elementary schools in Washington Highlands and the encroachment of charter schools in Ward 8.
Years after the pandemic triggered a state of emergency, Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center reopened last October. The indoor aquatic center has been slated to open within a matter of months. When that happens, community members can participate in the DC Summer Swim League with swimming lessons and senior activities coordinated by the YMCA.
The degree to which those activities can happen has been a topic of concern for Solomon Robinson, a lifelong Washington Highlands resident and former area supervisor for all public pools in Southeast. During the holiday season, Robinson served as a special police officer for Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center.
That’s when he said he got a peek at what would eventually become the new indoor pool area which he described as ill-suited for the community.
As he reflected on the academic and professional opportunities afforded to him through swimming, Robinson said the District has overlooked the needs of young people in Southeast who could benefit from engaging in physical activity outside of football and basketball.
“What the recreation center has there now cannot accommodate children coming in the summer. In a community that has a vast amount of young people, it would be less safe,” said Robinson, an alumnus of Ferebee-Hope Elementary School and Ballou High School who later attended Chicago State University on a full swimming scholarship.
“The building that sat [in that location] was one of the most equipped elementary schools,” Robinson said. “When KIPP said they would restructure the building, I didn’t think they would knock it down. I didn’t know what to expect [but] I didn’t expect the recreation center and pool to be smaller. They made it [into] almost nothing.”