KIPP DC officials have conducted more than 70 meetings over two years with Washington Highlands community members about what would eventually become KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory and the newly-revitalized Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center.
Days after a virtual meeting about the state of the recreation center, some community members continue to dismiss that narrative, saying KIPP DC kept them out of the loop when they significantly reduced the size of the recreation center and multi-lane pool and removed a popular boxing gym.
As patrons of the newly-opened Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center continue to take photos of broken door knobs and peeling floors, they demand clarification about how the DC Department of Parks and Recreation [DPR] and Department of General Services [DGS] followed through with plans for the new recreation center without community input.
Olivia Henderson, president of the Washington Highlands Civic Association and commissioner of single-member district 8D02, in speaking about the $13.5 million recreation center revitalization, said many things happened right under their noses, despite KIPP officials agreeing to maintain all of the amenities.
They also promised to allow high school students from the community to attend the new charter school without entering the school lottery.
“The school is vibrant but the community is getting neglected. I don’t think KIPP will rectify it,” Henderson said. “How are our children supposed to reach their unique potential? If KIPP were to fix it, they would’ve done it before now.”
“The only time we saw the pool was when they opened it and did a walk through. Because we’re in Ward 8, KIPP thinks we’re not smart enough to challenge them. We have another development but they’re not doing anything for human development,” she said.
On the evening of March 10, Jacque Patterson, KIPP DC’s chief community engagement and growth officer, met with Washington Highlands community members, Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White, DPR Director Delano Hunter, Johnny Seikaly of MCN Build and descendants of Dr. Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee.
During the two-hour meeting, they explored the likelihood of recreation center patrons receiving a six-lane pool and boxing gym. Patterson said a community advisory commission initially formed in 2019 will meet once again within the next few weeks. He also mentioned that an on-campus incubator space could serve as the new home of the boxing gym.
During a presentation, Patterson also alluded to community members’ other requests, including adult education classes, job training opportunities, ADA accessibility and an on-campus mural honoring the legacies of Ferebee and Marion Conover Hope.
When it came to job training opportunities, some community members expressed concerns that collaborations with MCN Build, a Northwest-based general contractor, didn’t manifest in stable jobs for the young men who participated in a job training program. Other qualms involved what community members described as changes in the plans to the recreation center that occurred between 2019 and 2020.
DPR didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry about when, or whether, recreation officials consulted Washington Highlands community members about the changes, including reductions to the size of the recreation center.
In the years after the former Ferebee-Hope Elementary School shuttered, debate ensued about what would become of the school building amid overcrowding in neighborhood schools. School boundary plans released in 2014, not long after Ferebee-Hope’s closure, counted Ferebee-Hope Elementary among potential new public schools.
However, that vision would never come to fruition, due in part to the Comprehensive Planning and Utilization of School Facilities Act, which included a provision allowing the mayor to turn any District public school building over to a charter school.
As such, KIPP DC acquired a plot of land from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) that included Ferebee-Hope Elementary School and Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center. Once Bowser made that announcement in May 2019, KIPP DC began an engagement process Patterson said included canvassing of surrounding communities, surveys, and focus groups.
Janice Ferebee, a descendent of the late Ferebee, attended the March 10 meeting with other family members. For the last month, she expressed her frustration with the entire process in conversations with Patterson and others. Reflecting on her experiences as an ANC commissioner in Ward 2, she questioned how KIPP DC, DPR, DGS and other parties didn’t notify the Washington Highlands community about changes to the layout of the recreation center.
In doing so, she referred to KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory as the “big house” and Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center as the “slave quarters,” a comparison intended to highlight the way KIPP DC has treated Washington Highlands community members.
“What was promised was not delivered and even if you promised the 20,000 square feet, there’s a difference between the renderings in the 2019 sketch and 2020 sketch,” Ferebee said. “It’s important for the community to know when there are things happening that they are not aware of. They were not aware of [there not being a] boxing gym and all the other things. The concerns about the workmanship in the recreation center. The building just opened. This is not acceptable.”