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Should there be a new indoor pool in the Logan Circle area?

Instead of a parking garage, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)-owned land near 14th and S Streets, NW in DC could serve a recreational purpose. DPR seems to think so: its map of where the city needs pools seems to point right at this spot.

Wilson Aquatic Center. Image from DC DPR.

Now the agency may have a chance to follow through, as its budget will likely include funding for a study and community engagement around how to use this land for recreation, whether as a new indoor pool or something else.

DPR put out a "vision framework" in March which lays out specifically where there is the greatest need for parks, rec centers, pools, and playing fields. Maps show how wide an area each type of facility serves, and suggests general locations for new facilities.

For pools, DPR set a general goal of having a "splash pad" within 1 mile of every resident, an outdoor pool within 1½ miles, and an indoor pool within 2 miles.

Image from DC DPR.

The residents who are farther than this from an outdoor pool are in Upper Northwest, which has the greatest dearth of outdoor pools. Mary Cheh, whose committee oversees parks and recreation, funded an outdoor pool for that area, most of which she also represents.

DPR's map also suggests DC needs about six new "splash pads" in the northeast and southeast quadrants, three east of the river and three west. And as for indoor pools, DPR's plan says there are enough, except for in one area: the middle part of the city centered around 14th Street.

Image from DC DPR.

The locations of the asterisks showing needed facilities aren't supposed to be exact, but that yellow star looks like it's right around 14th and Q. It so happens that DPR has a large parcel of land just two blocks from that spot, a parcel which has plenty of room for an indoor pool and other recreation.

This is the spot where some area businesses have been suggesting a public parking garage, which would be a bad investment for the city. Should it instead get a pool or other recreational use? Is that what DPR has in mind?

Image from Bing Maps.

Cheh is intrigued, and allocated some money in her budget proposal for DPR to study what kind of recreational use could be appropriate here.

Square 238, located on S Street, NW, between 13th and 14th Streets, NW, is used by DPR as a parking lot and for maintenance and storage purposes. This location is precisely where DPR has identified a need for an indoor aquatic facility and other recreation needs.

Although some have proposed this site for a municipal parking garage, the Committee believes that this parcel is ripe for a new recreation facility. Therefore, the Committee recommends allotting $500,000 to engage the community in a design process to consider potential recreation uses for this site.

This parcel was also proposed as part of a possible land swap for a DC United stadium, but that deal is looking less and less likely with the Gray mayoralty heading into the sunset and substantial skepticism from councilmembers including Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.

Is recreation the right use here? If so, should it be a pool? There are a lot more children (and a lot of other people) in the general vicinity of this spot than there once were. On the other hand, there are two private pools very close by which the public can access (for a fee): the DC JCC at 16th and Q and the new Anthony Bowen YMCA at 13th and W.

What do you think should go here?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Is it possible to build a public pool with things above? Or a public rooftop pool? I'm certainly amenable to the idea but this area also just needs to be going taller, and a pool seems a bit too single-story, low density for the spot.

Sort of related, maybe: what's with all the big green space behind Garrison Elementary (bounded by R and Vermont)? There's no programming, it's not very accessible, but it would make for an EXCELLENT pool site. Plus it's farther off of from commercial zoning so it's not as big a sacrifice to go with a lower-intensity use.

by LowHeadways on May 15, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

Why do they bother denoting swimmable riverfront on there? Sure you can certainly swim in the Potomac and the Anacostia, but it's most definitely very unhealthy if you do it regularly, especially the filthy, filthy Anacostia.

by Ken on May 15, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

The real waste is the low-rise condos across the site, which the city should buy out and turn the ones facing 14th into a more typical high rise.

You've got the new YMCA nearby and I think the new cardozo pool may eventually be open to the public?

by charlie on May 15, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

what's with all the big green space behind Garrison Elementary (bounded by R and Vermont)?
Isn't that their playground? I think it, like all of Garrison, sorely needs renovation.

by David Alpert on May 15, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

I believe JBG is promising some renovations at the Garrison playground as part of their community package.

by charlie on May 15, 2014 1:35 pm • linkreport

Oh yes, that's right, they are.

by David Alpert on May 15, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

Would a pool there drive the new YMCA out of business? And, they did just build a new pool at Cardozo High. That was supposed to be open to public like Wilson, but plans changed. Wouldn't retrofitting that to make it a public pool be a better/cheaper strategy? Which is not to say the other parcel should be parking -- I'm still hoping the Reeves Center/Stadium swap goes through. Or basically anything that gets ride of Reeves center.

by DCmama on May 15, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

There's also a pool at the YMCA at 17th and Rhode Island Ave. NW.

In any case, despite the list from DPR there doesn't seem to be a comprehensive planning approach. Yes, wrt Low Headways point, there should be mixed use/co-located facilities. (In fact, wrt my Eastern Market duties, I'd rather see the Natatorium rebuilt with added community center responsibilities, with the ability then to capture North Hall to expand the food retail mix of the market to help it become more competitive).

I'd argue that we need these kinds of "amenities" civic assets distributed on a district/subward basis and that should be captured in a comprehensive plan.

But yes, the first priority should be opening the Cardozo Pool to the public. It's a bit of a hike but a lot cheaper than building a new facility.

by Richard Layman on May 15, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

This parcel was also proposed as part of a possible land swap for a DC United stadium

I thought the land swap centered on the Reeves Center site at 14th and U NW. Was this parcel included in the term sheet?

but that deal is looking less and less likely with the Gray mayoralty heading into the sunset and substantial skepticism from councilmembers including Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.

We don't know that. The councilmembers were trying to see what kind of concessions they could get out of the deal in exchange for their vote. We also have no idea what presumptive Mayor-elect Bowser feels about the land swap term sheet. The stadium wasn't a campaign issue at all. Nobody talked about it either way. She's probably in the process or will begin learning more about the proposal in the near future.

There's definitely a delay in the process but it's far from clear that the land swap/stadium term sheet is dead. After all, it's a privately-financed tax-generating amenity along with opening up new prime real estate to development and further tax revenue. I have a hard time thinking that such a lucrative offer for all parties would just go away. I don't doubt there will be more private meetings to hammer out the details and make political concessions etc.

by Cavan on May 15, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

It would make sense to have some sort of outdoor playing field to go along with the indoor pool, perhaps on the roof. Bundy field over in Shaw is nice but there isn't anywhere else for formal or informal sports along 14th. The Cardozo field is locked when it's not in use by the school teams or rented by a third party and Logan Circle is for sitting down. The same is true of the Stead Park field.

It would be nice to have a place to kick a soccer ball, throw a Frisbee, or toss a football.

by Cavan on May 15, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert: There's a playground, but beyond that it's just a huge, empty grass field. There was a structure on one portion (which may be property of the church next door), but they tore that down at some point in the last year.

You can see the field in Google Maps. The structure at lower left has been demolished and basically nothing else has been done. This plot could become so many things - a field a la Tubman Elementary in Columbia Heights, a community pool, something altogether different... Anyone know what JBG has in mind?

And I agree that a playing field in the area would be fantastic. I occasionally play with a rugby team, but the "occasionally" is because practice is at McKinley HS which is an absolute pain in the ass to get to (and it takes forever). Having a local field would be great.

by LowHeadways on May 15, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

Not sure that Logan is the best "descriptor" for this location (I over look the Circle) or that this is the best location for an indoor pool (I'm a fairly serious swimmer). I'm surprised a pool wasn't part of Kennedy Rec Center which is probably a better location than in the middle of commercial blocks. People who live near this proposed location already can easily go to the pool at Mary Reed.

DC public pools are free, but the Anthony Bowen Y a few blocks away and the RI Ave Y is probably just as close to the actual Circle. Garrison is a draw for people and has kept some families in the area, but enough to support a pool? And if those families who can afford a "Y" membership, why bother with a very expensive amenity (indoor pool facilities are not cheap).

Garrison is not far from a former outdoor pool site (that recently was bulldozed for new development). Sadly, an outdoor pool is something that the area actually does lack and it would be a better amenity for kids than an indoor pool (more for summer fun than for serious exercise).

by Rich on May 15, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

I swim at Wilson every week or two (Takoma when Wilson is closed, which over the years seems to happen a lot more than it should), worked as a lifeguard for 3 years for DC Rec. back in the 80s, live in upper NW without any pools close by and I have kids. I would certainly swim more if there was a new outdoor pool in the neighborhood.

If anyone should support building more pools in DC it should be me, but DC does not need more pools. The city needs to do a better job managing the pools we have.

Pools cost a lot to build, and then a lot to maintain, but they often don't get much use. Look at virtually any DC pool in July or August (public or private). Its usually pretty empty and outdoor pools are totally dead spots for 75% of the year in DC.

Rather than spending a lot of money to build more fancy pools and then all the money it takes to run them, why not increase the budgets of DC's existing pools to make the better. Spending just a little money to make sure the showers always work at DC's pools make a lot more sense to me.

It would be nice to have enough pools so everyone could walk to a pool, but it makes a lot of sense to concentrate resources in a few well run, well equipped facilities, rather than a bunch of smaller

by turtleshell on May 15, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

turtleshell -- yep. That's why I keep advocating for planning parks and rec. at three scales: city-wide, district-sector-area (bigger than ward), ward-neighborhood. You don't need a pool in every neighborhood necessarily, and you want to maximize the use of existing resources. ... on the other hand, it'd be nice to have an indoor track open to the public, which I don't think we have. Etc.

It's insane that there isn't a good MOU between DPR and DCPS for co-use of facilities. Such an MOU has been in place in Balt. County for more than 50 years. So their the DRP will pay towards the creation of bigger than school requirements facilities in schools for add'l use by the public.

That being said, Greater Dupont Circle is pretty big. I am not a big pool user. What about the pool at Francis Rec. Center/school?

It's not unreasonable to expect people to travel up to a couple miles to get to a public pool. (It's like with hospitals. I remember a quote years ago that DC wants a Level 4 trauma center in every ward, where in most metropolitan areas they are fortunate to have a couple.)

by Richard Layman on May 15, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

The Cardozo field is sometimes locked, but it get used by the public almost constantly.

by charlie on May 15, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

The Mary Reed Center already has a public indoor pool, which is less than a mile away from 14th and S, and which already serves the area shaded in yellow in the aquatics vision shown above. A better question might be: why doesn't DPR open Mary Reed pool at the weekend?

by renegade09 on May 15, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

i dont think anyone in the area is dying for an outside like to see a more creative use of the area. Maybe micro units? Afforable housing in the area is shrinking for us young professionals!

by corey on May 15, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

Sadly this site is probably going to given away to developers for pay-to-play. Although more $ could be generated by re-locating Francis pool to 14th & S and giving away the Francis pool site which is very pricey real estate.

by Tom Coumaris on May 15, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

Just going by the DPR's goals, there is already a splash pad within 1 mile of 14th and S, an outdoor pool within 1.5 miles and an indoor pool within 2 miles. So I'm not sure what this parcel needs but it doesn't seem to need a pool.

Although more $ could be generated by re-locating Francis pool to 14th & S and giving away the Francis pool site which is very pricey real estate.

Great -- if we're going to give away land to developers for pay-to-play, at least we can make sure it's the very pricey land!

by Scoot on May 15, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

Ken - yes. eww to the map calling the Anacostia "swimmable riverfront"

by asffa on May 15, 2014 5:54 pm • linkreport

As someone with very young kids, I would love to see an outdoor pool in NW. Actually, one of the spots indicated on the map for one is right where we live, which would be awesome. Wilson Pool is terrible for families. The family lock rooms were clearly designed by someone who doesn't have kids. And the small pool is absolutely nothing to speak of for kids to play in. I can't imagine an outdoor pool in Chevy Chase not teeming with kids in the summertime.

by Jay on May 15, 2014 8:58 pm • linkreport

I just don't see an outdoor pool 10 blocks from the Francis pool and 10 blocks from the one at Georgia and V. An indoor pool like the Capitol Hill Natatorium would be nice.

by Tom Coumaris on May 16, 2014 1:24 am • linkreport

I swim at Marie Reed 3 days a week. I echo the above statements that DCPR needs to reinvest in their current infrastructure. The current facility is in need of repair not only to the structure but also to the pool mechanics.

Marie Reed also often has high demand for the lanes due the constant closure of 2-3 lanes for swim lessons and is closed on the weekends.

DCPS opted not to build a pool at Cardozo High and the Dunbar pool is only open to the public for limited weekend hours. Meaning that if you want to swim laps on the weekend a trek to Wilson is required.

Most of these issues could be fixed with current infrastructure and better planning. I agree that DCPR missed an opportunity to build an indoor pool in the area with the renovation of the Kennedy Recreation Center. That site seems much better suited than the S Street location.

by Marie Reed Swimmer on May 16, 2014 8:50 am • linkreport

I'd love to see something at this site, or as Rich mentioned above on the abundant land at Kennedy Rec Center, with a pool that has a retractable roof. Having access to an outdoor pool like the Francis one in Dupont that is ALWAYS at capacity would be awesome in the summer, and a retractable roof would mean it could be used year round, so it would never be a "dead zone". And, they're getting easier and cheaper to build as they become more common on much larger athletic venues for the Olympics, for professional sports, and in recent years, even college and high school facilities nationwide.

by ShawGuy on May 16, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

An indoor swimming pool in not incompatible with a parking facility. Setting aside the policy issue of building more parking in the transit-rich 14th Street corridor, you could easily combine a great indoor swimming pool with 3 levels of parking beneath it. Putting the pool on top yields lots of natural light for swimming. The facility could also be partially open air in the summers.

by Mr. Transit on May 16, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

As usual, Mary Cheh is high. NW has 4 indoor pools: Marie Reed, Dunbar, Takoma, and the fantastic Wilson, which she OPPOSED because she is a menace to society. Turkey Thicket is also easily accessible to the lemmings in her ward. There are 4 outdoor pools in NW: Banneker, Francis, Volta, and Jelleff.

Mary Cheh took credit for the renovation of Wilson (which took forever and exceeded the budget). Then, she sided with the schoolkids for 25-yard lanes despite the fact that the pool was built as a 50-meter pool and it is supposed to serve the whole community (i.e., city), not just whiny kids in Ward 3.

Unfortunately, all of the pools in D.C. have wacka-do hours and lane assignments. Does a 16-yard pool make sense at Rumsey/Eastern Market when the pool is 25-yards? Dunbar is only open on weekends. I can't even begin to understand Takoma's or Rumsey's lap lane hours. DCPR is worthless like the rest of D.C. government.

Keep writing your City Councilman (letter, e-mail, twitter) to improve DCPR.

by Lisa on May 16, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

@Mr. Transit

Despite your name, I wonder if you've ever actually tried to catch a 50-bus on 14th Street. 10-15 minute headways and jam-packed buses do not a "transit-rich" corridor make.

by LowHeadways on May 16, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

Then, she sided with the schoolkids for 25-yard lanes despite the fact that the pool was built as a 50-meter pool and it is supposed to serve the whole community (i.e., city), not just whiny kids in Ward 3.

Umm, have you ever swum laps in a 50-meter pool? Really not pleasant.

by MLD on May 16, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

What we desperately need around here is a park. The dogs have one on S, people don't. A public park makes it easier to do density while retaining livability.

by Tom Coumaris on May 16, 2014 10:44 pm • linkreport

As someone who swims weekly (and who has back problems that make swimming one of few recommended forms of exercise), my sense is that there isn't nearly enough indoor pool space in DC.

The pool at the 17th & Rhode Island YMCA is jam-packed before and after work and on weekends (and during the day in summers), and my more limited experience at Wilson is that it's also crowded. I haven't checked out the new Y at 14th & W, but given all the new apartments in the area I'm guessing it will soon be at capacity, too.

I support more indoor pool capacity in DC not just in places where I myself would use it. Swimming and water aerobics are great for seniors and others with exercise limitations. Outdoor pool space is also a nice amenity, but harder to justify given that it can't be used year-round.

by Liz B on May 17, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

Lisa -- great comment. It makes me assert that this idea/post is ill considered.

wrt LizB's comment, probably the issue first is clarifying what pool assets exist and how to best provide access to them. I didn't know that Cardozo doesn't have a pool. But if Dunbar isn't open much, that's a crime.

I have to read the DPR plan, but my sense is that the city plenty of pool assets on a per capita basis, that access is the fundamental issue. I do think it's unreasonable to expect residents in the city's core to travel up to Wilson or Takoma for pool access, even though either is reasonably accessible via Metro.

Note that when the ZC agreed to eliminate rec. space requirements from the downtown area I said that was somewhat ill considered, that instead buildings should be required to pay rec-park impact fees, and the money should be directed to the provision of park and rec spaces in the CBD.

E.g., I don't see why there isn't a public rec. center configured for downtown. The YWCA did provide some of these kinds of services, for a price, but this facility was decommissioned. Too bad, it was well positioned, across the street from the MLK library and the gallery place Metro.

Interestingly, the new basketball arena in Bilbao was built with public recreation center facilities complementing the normal arena facilities. Those facilities include a pool.

When Verizon Center gets rebuilt, that kind of idea should be on the table.

by Richard Layman on May 18, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

The building that was demolished in the field behind Garrison - next to the church - was a splash pool. It had not been operational in years. The field is used fairly often by a youth football team as well as others. Not a great park to sit around in, but it does get used.

by Around the corner on May 18, 2014 9:46 pm • linkreport

An indoor pool there would be great! Just because there are nearby YMCA/YWCA pools does not mean that there is not a need for a public pool. The membership fees to the Y facilities are in excess of $60/month which is too much for many people. If you want to encourage people to exercise, you need to make it convenient, potentially enjoyable, and inexpensive. I don't see anything better than a public swimming pool at low to no cost for admission. The closest public pool I believe is at the Marie Reed Center and it's a very old pool with pretty dreadful locker rooms, and it's not open on the weekends.

by Catherine K on Dec 5, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

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