In December, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) announced the unveiling of three new tech lounges that serve as the model for the way residents will interact with technology in recreation centers across Washington, DC. Each lounge had a separate launch event in December to showcase its complete remodel.
“The old concept of a computer lab is dead,” explained DPR Director Keith A. Anderson. “Our new tech lounges are more comfortable and vibrant with bigger screens and faster internet speeds, making them destinations for technology, learning and fun as opposed to just a place to check email.”
The new tech lounges are located at Deanwood Recreation Center in Ward 7 (1350 49th St. NE), Riggs LaSalle Recreation Center in Ward 4 (501 Riggs Road NE) and Hillcrest Recreation Center in Ward 7 (3100 Denver St. SE)
Each lounge boasts a 65-inch smart TV and computers with 27-inch monitors. Recreation centers housing the lounges have wi-fi for better connectivity, and the new computers offer e-gaming capacity. Although each lab will eventually host a minimum of six Apple iPads, they have not yet been introduced pending the installation of parental controls.
The rooms themselves have been transformed to look more inviting. The decor includes cocktail tables and armless, low-back chairs, with sofas and lounge chairs for a more sociable setting. While video games are available, so are board games such as chess and checkers.
Intended to be places where teens can go after school, the lounges are particularly attractive in the cold winter months. DPR hopes that the transformation makes the facilities appeal to more young people.
“Tech lounges are another way we can make a difference in the community, starting with Ward 5 and Ward 7 connecting with at-risk youth,” said Anderson. “Deanwood, for example, had a drab and uninviting teen room that was used mostly for charging cell phones.”
DPR launched Deanwood Recreation Center’s Tech Lounge on Dec. 7 to over 60 teens and followed that with a ribbon cutting at Riggs LaSalle Recreation Center’s Tech Lounge for over 40 seniors, teens and advisory neighborhood commission members.
At the Dec. 21 launch of the Hillcrest Recreation Center, which has the largest square footage of the three tech lounges, teens ate pizza as they waited for the ribbon cutting. After one of the younger attendees helped DPR Creative Coordinator Kenneth Stewart make the ceremonial cut, the room was swarmed by those eager to find a seat on the deep, comfortable couches or the modern red armchairs.
“Hey, computers! Can we go online?” asked one who, after receiving assent from Stewart, immediately turned away from the video game console, where a large group had gathered, to begin an NBA 2K18 tournament.
During the day, the lounges are focused on helping seniors navigate new technology. After 3:30 p.m., lounges become a safe teen tech hub. The concept is designed to appeal directly to youth while being accessible to seniors.
Earlier that same day, Audrey Bazemore and Shirley Phillips could be found listening to Al Green through YouTube on one of their own laptops. They had brought the technology with them on what was their first visit to the lounge. The two ladies and a friend attended the training Stewart gave for seniors on modern technology. They said the computer screens were great and the chairs were comfortable.
“We seniors are anxious and excited to keep up with technology,” said Bazemore.
Phillips said that the lounge in Hillcrest Recreation Center is located about a 15-minute drive from the neighborhood she has lived in for more than 10 years. She has taken advantage of other classes at the rec center but thinks the lounge and the tech training are a great addition. “We just love it. We had many questions, and he [Stewart] was excellent,” Phillips said, “he answered all of them.”
During the session, Bazemore and Phillips asked questions about their laptops and smart phones and certain applications on their phones and iPads. The seniors were particularly engaged with technology, and Stewart encouraged others to come take advantage of sessions and the lounge itself. “It’s not just a lab anymore,” Stewart said, “it’s here for you to use and enjoy and be innovative.”
Teenagers participating in the launch event certainly enjoyed themselves. Seated on the sectional couch, they shouted encouragement to one another and displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of the players of the National Basketball Association.
When excitement got to a tipping point, Stewart cautioned them, warning that if they didn’t mind their language they would have to leave. Labs are open to teens after 3:30 p.m., when staff are present to answer questions, supervise and monitor.
Waiting for his turn at the tournament, one teen said that he had heard about the tech lounges from a teacher. Another said he had heard about them while in the recreation center gym. Asked if he would return, he said, “Oh, yeah. I’ll be back tomorrow.” He turned to Stewart. “You open tomorrow?”