On a blazing Sunday afternoon, at the corner of Staples and Oates Streets NE, about 20 kids take turns standing in the generous spray of an open fire hydrant. Just two blocks away sits the pool at the Trinidad Recreation Center, nearly ready for the summer season. Its walls shine with a fresh coat of blue paint. All it needs is someone to turn on the spigot.
The kids running through the stream of water on Oates Street, however, don’t have the least bit of interest in wading in. Their reason is simple: The 3-foot-deep pool isn’t much fun for anyone larger than a toddler.
“Last time I swam in the pool, I hit my head because I’m too tall,” complains Bianca, 11, who looks to be all of 4-foot-3. “You should be able to dunk people in the pool.”
A smaller girl, named Chantel, 10, pipes up. “Last year, I went to camp at the rec center. We had to go in [the water] in shifts,” she says. “We could go in for one hour. Then the next person can come in.”
Trinidad residents have long complained about the 1963-vintage pool at the recreation center. Its shallow waters have never accommodated the majority of the neighborhood’s 6,000 denizens.
“All you can do is doggy-paddle and splash around,” recalls a lifelong Trinidad resident who gives her nickname, Peaches. “That pool is as old as me. We shouldn’t have to ask for a pool after 40 years.”
The nearest full-size pool is at the Rosedale Recreation Center, at 17th and Gales Streets NE. Getting there, however, is treacherous, especially for childrenyou have to cross Benning Road, an eight-lane cross-town artery.
For a while, it looked as though Trinidad residents might realize their dream of uninterrupted splashfests. District officials last year announced that they intended to build a new, 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art recreation center on the site of the present one, which consists of little more than an office, two bathrooms, and one large multipurpose room. Along with the new building, the center was to get a refurbished baseball field and new playground equipment. The price tag for the entire project was estimated to be $3.2 million.
Groundbreaking was scheduled for last October. But when architects presented the plans at community meetings late last summer, irate Trinidad constituents demanded to know why the proposed center didn’t include a new pool.
“[District officials] decided what they want the neighborhood to have. They had an architect draw up the plans. Then they asked what the community wanted. That’s backwards,” complains longtime community activist George Boyd.
At first, raising a ruckus brought some progress. In October, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Neil Albert appeared at a community meeting to personally assure residents that architects would revise their plans to include a full-sized indoor pool.
More than six months later, recreation center staffers have spotted surveyors on site, but no one has sunk a shovel. “Everything is still in the conceptual stage,” says Darrick Nicholas, a Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson. “There’s no date yet for a groundbreaking.”
Nicholas says architects are working with residents to come up with plans that meet neighborhood desireswhich run the gamut from the serious (a diving board) to the smart-ass (a ban on mayoral poolside antics).
“[When the pool opens], we don’t want Anthony Williams up here to do no cannonball dive,” says Peaches, referring to the trademark stunt the mayor performs each year to kick off the summer recreation season.
Joenell Longshore, a 20-year resident, says she looks forward to being able to join her grandchildren for a dip. “I like to swim now, too,” she says.
So far, though, the pool still hasn’t made it to the drawing board. Architectural drawings of the site presented to the community in April didn’t include a pool, prompting some neighbors to begin bracing for disappointment.
Boyd notes that Trinidad has been left high and dry before. In the late ’70s, despite vigorous lobbying efforts, residents failed to secure a neighborhood pool at what is now the Joseph F. Cole Fitness Center on Morse Street NE. City officials told residents that the funding wasn’t available for a pool, so residents settled for a gymnasium with a roller rink on the roof, recalls Boyd. The centera castlelike concrete behemothcost more than $1.2 million to build. When it was completed, in 1977, it had a leaky roof, and its grand opening was delayed for three years. The roller rink was deemed unsafe and never used.
So when it comes to the city’s latest vision for Trinidad, “I got to wait to see the plans and see the pool before I believe it,” Boyd says. CP