Loverro: Park service stalls baseball academy

President Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch before last week’s All-Star Game in St. Louis.

When will he throw out the first pitch for kids in the District?

Plans for a baseball academy and the expansion of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena remain in doubt because National Park Service bureaucrats have decided the interests of their little kingdom are more important than the interests of kids.

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast, built in 1976, already serves an estimated 10,000 boys and girls each year, hosts numerous skating and educational programs and is in desperate need of more room.

“We have a waiting list of kids,” said Willem Polak, chairman of the Friends of Fort Dupont, the nonprofit organization that operates the facility. “It is a great place for kids in a part of the city that doesn’t have much. We’re trying to give kids a better life that don’t have anything.”

Who would be against that?

But actions by the park service and the Maryland and Virginia native plant societies have put the projects in jeopardy.

“It is frustrating,” Polak said. “How long do we want to put up with this?”

The most frustrating thing is that, save for some bad weather in January, the baseball academy and Fort Dupont expansion projects could be well on their way to raising the needed funds.

In the final days of the George W. Bush administration, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne pushed forward plans to transfer 15 acres of Fort Dupont land for the projects from the park service to the District. The transfer would have allowed both the Friends of Fort Dupont and supporters of the baseball academy to crank up fundraising efforts, knowing the project’s future was secure.

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation agreed to donate $1 million for the baseball academy, which would cost an estimated $10 million to $13 million. That donation and the club’s agreement to contribute $250,000 every year to run the academy was part of the deal the city made with Major League Baseball in 2005 to fund and construct Nationals Park.

City officials determined the academy ideally would be located at Fort Dupont, giving low-income children there the chance to take part in both academy and ice arena activities.

The project was such a done deal that the Interior Department and the Nationals sent a notice Dec. 17 announcing a news conference with Mayor Adrian Fenty, team representatives and other local leaders at 10:30 a.m. the next day.

I showed up at the appointed time. No one was there.

Turns out Kempthorne’s plane was delayed by bad weather in the Midwest, and his agency didn’t want to proceed with the dog-and-pony show without the top dog. The event was postponed.

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