Park Authority: Robert E. Lee RECenter has already been renamed

Exterior of Robert E. Lee RECenter
It’s now the Lee District RECenter.

More than 150 years after he surrendered at Appomattox, Robert E. Lee keeps on losing. The latest blow to the Confederate general came in January, when the Fairfax County Park Authority Board quietly voted to rename the Robert E. Lee RECenter to just the Lee District RECenter.

The Park Authority board voted on the matter at its January 23 meeting, with all members present voting in favor of the change.

The vote was not publicized beyond the Park Authority’s meeting documents, and was brought to Covering The Corridor’s attention by Park Authority spokeswoman Judith Pedersen on Wednesday.

The signage on the RECenter will be changed sometime this spring, according to Pedersen. The Park Authority already refers to building as just the “Lee District RECenter” on its website, and has done so for some time.

The estimated cost to replace the building’s sign is $4,800, which includes new letters and installation, according to Pedersen.

The issue of removing Robert E. Lee’s name from RECenter became a hot topic earlier this month when Larysa Kautz, a candidate in the Democratic primary race for Lee District supervisor, wrote a letter to Covering The Corridor calling for the names of the RECenter and Robert E. Lee High School to be changed. The letter sparked extended arguments for and against the idea, much like the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church two years ago and similar fights over Confederate names and statues nationwide.

Kautz said Thursday that while she welcomed the name change, the Park Authority should have done more to include the public in the discussion.

“I’m a little frustrated by what seems to be (best case) a lack of transparency and (worst case) a lack of willingness to stand with the courage of our convictions,” Kautz said in an email. “If we decide something is wrong and needs to be changed, let’s talk about it, explain our decision and celebrate it.”

In her original letter, Kautz said shortening the name to just the Lee RECenter, as the board has done, would not be enough. However she said Thursday that she’s not completely against the new name since the Lee Magisterial District is not named after Robert E. Lee.

“I do think it’s a lost opportunity to have community involvement in the renaming of the rec center and a dialogue about what we want to celebrate and stand for,” Kautz said. “It’s certainly better than the status quo and I’m happy to hear that there’s movement on it.”

Quick change

Unlike the renaming of Stuart High School, the name change for the RECenter was a fast-moving process. The Park Authority began looking at renaming the recreation center last fall as part of a larger review of the names of facilities associated with the Civil War.

Staff members compiled a list of names, and the Robert E. Lee RECenter and J.E.B. Stuart Park emerged as two possibilities for renaming.

“The list includes parks that have been named for Civil War related events, locations, or historical figures and includes information as to whether the park name was specifically related to the Union, Confederacy, neither, or both,” Park Authority board meeting notes said. “The Robert E. Lee RECenter came to the top of the list for renaming potential.”

Park Authority Board meeting notes say guidance laid out in the Fairfax County Park Authority Policy Manual was followed in the renaming process. The Board voted to rename J.E.B. Stuart Park at its December 12, 2018 meeting. It’s now named Justice Park, to match the new name given to J.E.B. Stuart High School last year.

Board documents say that the Robert E. Lee RECenter was named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1980. The decision to shorten it to just Lee District RECenter was based on the building’s location in Lee District, which while probably named for the Lee family, is not named specifically after the Confederate general, according to the Park Authority.

“It is recommended that the RECenter be renamed to Lee District RECenter, reflecting its geographical location in Lee District,” notes from a Park Authority Board meeting say. “This recommendation responds to requests
from members of the community who find the current name offensive.”


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