WASHINGTON - For more than a year, the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center in Southeast D.C. has been undergoing renovations that cost the city nearly $7 million. The center is now open to the public, but the city's Department of Parks and Recreation said there are things like a playground that still need to be completed.
But for the areas that have been completed, they are not being well-received. The most vocal in this community includes Ward 7’s new councilmember – former Mayor Vincent Gray.
“I don't understand how any self-respecting contractor or architect could approve this,” he said. “And this is just the beginning.”
Gray said he approved the budget to renovate the recreation center while he was mayor. But it was under current Mayor Muriel Bowser that changes were made.
“I wouldn’t know about any details of one of our recreation centers, but I’m happy to have my director respond,” Bowser said after we asked her if she was aware of any complaints about the facility.
Less than a half an hour after FOX 5 spoke with Bowser, Mziwandile Masimini, the deputy director for the Department of Parks and Recreation, showed up at the recreation center.
He told Gray that “all of the concerns you have got, we have addressed.” But Gray interrupted Masimini saying, “This should have been stopped long before now, brother.”
Some of the concerns for Gray and several Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioners are gaps on the basketball court – uneven ground to some people, cracks found on the cement in the lobby, and a stove out in the open and accessible to any child walking through.
“What does it say about the quality of the materials used to put a cover on this building?” Gray asked Masimini as they checked a wall on the side of the building.
Another concern brought to attention to the deputy director is the lack of a cover for a natural gas meter and pipe that is adjacent to the main activity areas for children. The meter and pipe also stands in the way of a bathroom that should be accessible to disabled visitors.
Gray: “What happens when the kids start swinging on these pipes?”
Masimini: “Again, this is a Washington Gas project.”
Gray: “No, it's your building.”
Masimini: “What we're looking to do is we are going to work with [Department on Disability Services] to figure out the best way to make this as safe as possible.”
Gray: “Why wasn't it figured out? Look, first of all, I'm sorry you are in the middle of this, but you are, okay? Why wasn't that figured out before it got to this point?”
Masimini: “So I know that one of the concerns … This wasn’t initially brought up in our engineering phase. I think it is something that can be taken care of fairly easily.”
Gray: “What is the solution if it is that easy?”
Masimini: “The solution to me is to figure out a solid covering that can be negotiated that would allow [American with Disabilities Act] accessibility to that bathroom.”
ANC commissioner Sheila Carson Carr also noticed that the gas could be heard running at the meter.
“I'm just concerned for the health and welfare of the children and the adults using this center and this is unacceptable,” she said.
However, Washington Gas said the hissing noise means the meter is working and is not cause for concern.
Still, Gray said his ward is his priority.
“You look at the east end of this city and the perception is, sometimes true, that the east end gets the short end of the stick – no pun intended,” Gray said. “This is a good example of something being done in a way that nobody would find acceptable.”
There will be a meeting at the recreation center next Tuesday to address the issues. Councilmember Gray and Masimini said they will be in attendance.
The Department of Parks and Recreation also said they hope to have a representative from the Department of General Services in charge of the design and construction of the building there as well. We reached out to a spokesperson for the Department of General Services, but have yet to hear back as of Monday night.