Groundbreaking for Barry Farm Rec Center met with protests

The planned Barry Farm Rec Center. Courtesy of D.C. Parks and Recreation

The groundbreaking for a $23 million rec center for Barry Farm public housing was met with protests today, even though the residents want the center itself.

The shovels were there, the pile of dirt was there. They even brought in some kids.

The protesters invited themselves.

Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilman Marion Barry came to break ground for Barry Farm's new rec center, to be completed in September 2014.

But a group of residents organized by the protest group Empower DC complain nobody every talked to them about tearing down the current rec center while the new one is built.

They complain that in this complex teeming with kids, the only indoor rec center is gone until next year, with nothing temporary to replace it.

"So this is a safe haven, so if you shut this down where will these kids go? What are you going to do with them?" asks Joe Anne Donaldson, a Barry Farm resident.

The playground slides and other outdoor equipment have to go for construction, but some basketball courts will stay.

The ceremony went on, the dirt was thrown, and the mayor defended the plan, saying the city will step up.

"The Department of Parks and Recreation will bring mobile services in here to serve the young people," Gray says.

Residents complain that with no say about a rec center, they're even more afraid that with the entire complex set to be demolished and rebuilt, what will happen to them.

"If we look at some of the past neighborhoods that have closed, my children have classmates that I know right now are homeless," says Phyllsa Bilal, a Barry Farm resident.

The mayor met with some of the protesters to hear their concerns.