City Turns Over Jelleff Fields to Maret

As you may have read from the Current, the city recently entered into an agreement with the Maret School concerning the Jelleff sports fields. Much is unclear right now about the merit of the deal, however, what is clear is that the manner in which it was entered into is very alarming.

For those of you who don’t read the Current (which is the only newspaper covering this issue, and seriously, you really ought to read the Current) two weeks ago the city held a press conference at the Jelleff Branch of the Boys and Girls Club to announce the finalization of the $20 million agreement for the city to buy the club’s Georgetown property along with two other properties in the city. In a passing mention the Mayor disclosed that the city entered into a deal with the Maret School to fix up the Jelleff fields in exchange for giving the school semi-exclusive rights to use the fields. Carol Buckley of the Current diligently followed up on that point. Nikita Stewart of the Post, on the other hand, thought the most newsworthy element of the press conference was the Mayor’s opinion on Gilbert Arenas.

Here are the details of the plan as GM understands them:

  • The Maret School will make improvements to the fields. These improvements will likely involve converting the entire field to artificial turf. This would allow maximum flexibility for the field’s use.
  • Maret will spend up to $2.5 million although the memorandum of understanding between it and the city does not require any specific amount. The only requirements are that Maret construct an artificial turf field that accommodates baseball, soccer and lacrosse. The designs must be shared with, but not necessarily approved by, the Department of Parks and Recreation.
  • Maret shall provide maintenance of the field.
  • Maret will get semi-exclusive use of the fields.
  • This exclusive use will last for ten years.

The Current has described the semi-exclusive hours generally, but the actual hours contained in the MOU are even more than the Current discussed. They are:

  • All day (8:00AM – 4:00PM), seven days a week for the last two weeks of August.
  • 3:30 – 5:30 every weekday during the fall and spring (that’s September through mid-November, and March through mid-May respectively).
  • On Wednesdays they get the fields starting at 2:00 over that same time period.
  • Five full Saturdays each fall and spring (the MOU doesn’t give hours for the Saturdays)

Those hours represent a significant chunk of the field’s useful hours. For one, the field has no lights and the MOU doesn’t require Maret to build any lights (and why would they if their hours are all daytime?). Besides, GM is very skeptical that they’d get approval to build heavy duty sports lights on a field that borders residences, Dumbarton Oaks, and a national park.

So assuming that lights won’t be built, the fields will cease to be useful at sunset. When we’re not under Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets at about 6:00 at the latest. Thus for the first half of spring and the last half of fall, Maret will basically be the only ones that can use the fields during the weekday afternoons.

Stoddert Soccer

When discussing this field it’s impossible not to consider the case of Stoddert Soccer. Stoddert Soccer is a very popular soccer league that has been headquartered at Jelleff for many years. For that reason, they are very concerned about this deal.

On the face of it, it may seem that this deal is unmitigatedly bad for Soddert. The organization is always desperate to find fields and with Maret now owning a pretty hefty easement over the field it will be all that more difficult for Stoddert to find space.

There are, however, some reasons for Stoddert to see a silver lining. The fact is that the Jelleff field is in terrible condition. When it rains the field turns to mud and is unusable for at least a day. Considering how much it rains in the spring and fall, this presents a huge difficulty for scheduling at Stoddert.

Therefore, with a brand new artificial turf field Jelleff may offer significant more user-hours than in its current shape. Thus while Maret is getting a huge slice of the pie, the pie itself will simply be a lot bigger.

Moreover, Maret doesn’t generally have games on Saturdays. In fact Stoddert rents out Maret’s fields on Saturdays. So it’s not clear whether Maret will even exercise that option or why they negotiated for it in the first place.

Additionally, the fields will be completely open and usable during the winter and summer. While this doesn’t help Stoddert, it will benefit those that do play outdoor sports during those seasons. (But don’t forget Maret’s monopolization of the second half of August.)

The Process

So if the deal holds pros and cons to one of the field’s most active users, what’s the problem? The answer: the process. From what GM can determine this was essentially a sole source contract. Neither Stoddert nor the British School (the other primary user of the fields) were given a chance to submit their own offers. Perhaps they would not have been able to beat Maret’s offer, but maybe some other school would have (for instance if St. Albans would have done it for just five exclusive years.)

Another option would be for the city to spend its own money on a much less ambitious renovation. The city is planning to spend $266 million over the next six years on parks and recreations capital projects. Perhaps it would have made more sense to direct some of that towards renovating the fields instead of handing them over to Maret. One big reason: artificial turf is normally only good for about ten years. By the time Maret’s easement expires, the fields will need to be replaced again. The primary beneficiary of Maret’s spending will be Maret itself.

But in the end we just don’t know what the best choice for us would be since the deal was struck in complete secrecy without any public notice or opportunity to comment. Since the city just spent some large portion of $20 million of our money to buy the field based on the promise that it would remain a community center it’s awfully alarming that the city would enter into this significant easement before the ink is dry on the land transfer.

And for what it’s worth, Stoddert charges $75 and serves 5,000 kids; Maret charges nearly $30,000 are serves 630 kids. While that’s an unfair comparison, the city invites such unfair comparisons when it cuts a sole source contract deal with an exclusive private school without giving the public notice or opportunity to comment.

And speaking of unfair comparisons, in this week’s Current Maret boardmember and Georgetown resident Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote an op-ep defending the Jelleff deal. She takes time to specifically object to the comparisons between this deal and the city’s aborted attempt to sell the West End library to EastBanc. She argues that EastBanc is a for-profit enterprise while Maret is non-profit, so therefore the comparison is unfair. Frankly, if she and Maret think that the public’s objection to the dark-of-the-night sale of a public library was simply that the EastBanc would profit monetarily, they did not understand that situation. The objection was to the process, not the outcome; and there’s no better evidence for that than the fact that after a public and open process the West End neighborhood now supports EastBanc’s most recent proposal.

The Current reported that Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is concerned about the deal and wants to subject it to Council review. GM hopes he follows through. If this deal is as good for us as Maret and the Mayor says it is, they should have no fear of a little sunlight.

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14 Comments

Filed under Real Estate, Schools

14 responses to “City Turns Over Jelleff Fields to Maret

  1. Pingback: Did Posh Maret School Get a Sweetheart Deal From D.C.? - City Desk - Washington City Paper

  2. Maxwell

    Kinda seems to me that a major issue is why Maret was the only player here.

    Was there some public notice inviting offers? Apparently not.

    I don’t have any reason to believe that this wasn’t a well-intentioned deal, but the fact that there was no possibility for others to join in the negotiations sure stinks. The Mayor should open this up to get proposals from all .

  3. Linda

    You didn’t mention that the Greater Washington Boys & Girls Club announced their financial woes and their intent to sell properties during the summer of 2009. Other groups could have stepped up and made offers then. It’s not like the District made a backhanded deal with Maret and no one knew that Jelleff was on the selling block. If other organizations were that invested in the field, they could have easily placed bids or announced their intent as Maret did.

    It is right for you to acknowledge that the turf field would make the field more available now in its decrepit state. As you said in so many words, Maret only has use during the school year leaving the field open for use all other times and during peak usage in the summertime. Additionally, who’s to say that the public cannot use the fields during Maret’s allotted hours when it is left vacant? Doesn’t the exclusivity just mean DPR, who is managing the field on behalf of the District, cannot permit it for use by another organization?

    It’s also disingenuous for you to say the District spent $20 million on the purchase of the field.
    See: “Since the city just spent some large portion of $20 million of our money to buy the field based on the promise that it would remain a community center it’s awfully alarming that the city would enter into this significant easement before the ink is dry on the land transfer.”

    That $2o million was for the purchase of THREE club houses – not just Jelleff. We should be thankful that the Jelleff Club house and field as well as the other two properties purchased from the Boys & Girls Club was not lost to developers and is still available for District residents.

  4. GM

    Actually Linda, the GWBGC discussed their intention to sell the property well before the summer of 2009. But it was specifically to prevent other parties from buying the property that the District stepped forward with a purchase price that is arguably above what the market rate would be.

    I don’t completely understand your point about when the field is vacant. Yes, people could go on the field and use it if no one is around, but organizations like Stoddert can’t operate on the basis of “maybe they won’t be using it that day.”

    And I did not say that the city spent $20 million on the field. I said the city spent some large portion of $20 million for the field. I discuss the other properties in the second paragraph. I firmly believe that if the purchase were itemized, the field would represent a large portion of the overall purchase price.

  5. Dens James

    I’d like to thank the Georgetown Metropolitan for this coverage. As President of the Jelleff Board for the last 4 years, our board fought first against the sale of the property to the highest bidder, then for the City to purchase the property. Now we find ourselves having to fight for an open process to provide services at this newly-public facility.

    That Maret got there first should not be the end of the discussion. Why was DC and CM Evans willing to back this deal without knowing what other groups might provide a better deal and plan?

    DC Department of Parks will soon be issuing RFPs for the provision of services at Jelleff and the other 2 clubs purchased from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

    The ability for providers to respond with an integrated plan that includes field, gym building and pool is essential if DC taxpayers are to get good value for their money.

  6. thanks for covering this, GM. it’s good to know we have blogs out there who are willing to report where a lot of the big boys (i’m looking at you, wapo) aren’t.

  7. Pingback: ANC February Preview: The Hangover Edition «

  8. temple grassi

    What is happening to Jellef’s buildings-are they for sale?

  9. Dens James

    There is just the one building at Jelleff, housing the gym, locker rooms, game room, arts & crafts room, all-purpose room, kitchen, Jelleff offices, ANC 2E office and Stoddert Soccer offices.

    The building is not for sale. DC just made the first installment on its purchase agreement with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington for Jelleff, Clubhouse #10 in Columbia Heights and the Eastern Branch in the Hill East section of Capitol Hill. Jelleff was known as the “Western Branch” prior to department store operater Frank Jelleff giving the land to the Boys Club in the late 1940’s.

    The Eastern and Western Boys Club Branches mirrored the Eastern and old Western (now Ellington) High Schools. There was a rich history of competition between the clubs and high schools until Western became Ellington.

    A few years after the land was given, the locker room section of the current building was constructed, then later the gym section was added.

    Jelleff is now a DC Department of Parks & Recreation facility. The DC Council in December, 2009 funded operations by BGCGW to continue for a transition period thorugh June 30 2010.

  10. Jurgey9

    Yep, this goes against the concept of public parks to serve the public. DC has a long history of accepting monies — outside of taxes — to support capital improvements to parks but traditionally has said that any entity must compete in a public process for the actual permitting of any field (seems fair especially for those groups with less means than the deep pocketed ones). If you look closely at DPR administrative guidelines, they’ve “recently” changed the priority uses (public schools, then nonprofit kids groups then adult groups) to support groups with MOUs or MOAs (eg Maret) which suggests that if you’ve got the dollars, its yours for the taking. No surprise with this mayor. And where does Jack Evans kids go to school?

  11. William

    Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Jelleff is in Ward 2 and the Ward 2 Councilmember has a vested interest in Maret?

  12. Pingback: ANC Round Up: The Great Jelleff Battle of 2010 «

  13. Pingback: Stoddert Soccer Needs Your Help | The Georgetown Metropolitan

  14. Pingback: We’re About Halfway to Getting Our Field Back | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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