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Baltimore Rec Center Closings
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August 7, 2012
As a part of a restructuring program, Baltimore's department of recreation and parks is closing some rec centers and consolidating operations in others. The impending changes are forcing parents to make choices about their kids’ recreational plans. WYPR’s Milton Kent has the story.
Milton Kent: It’s just after 9 on a summer morning, and it’s time for the children at the Mary E. Rodman Recreation Center in West Baltimore to get busy having fun.
In all, 35 kids are bunched together in different groups, waiting to get their marching orders. Before the end of the day, they will have played floor hockey, done some acting, helped write a book, and gone swimming at the Cherry Hill Splash Park.
By 3 p.m., eight-year-old Jermar Bennett has put in a full day of play.
Jermar Bennett: You get to watch the people playing. The people are nice to you. They help you learn stuff that you don’t know. They help you be more intelligent like in your reading and your drawing stuff. They help you learn more sports. I just like it.
Kent: For Jermar, and 1,700 children like him, this is a standard summer camp day at one of the city’s 55 recreational centers.
However, summer programs at the Mary E. Rodman Center and four others will close Friday for good, unless someone takes over management functions there.
As it is, four other centers are closing permanently regardless, as part of a restructuring plan announced by city officials in May. Recreation Bureau Chief Bill Tyler says business as usual in terms of operating the full inventory of recreation centers in the city is a thing of the past.
Bill Tyler: The bigger picture is that our recreation centers really need to be improved. We do not have the resources, both human or physical to manage 55 of them.
Kent: The centers are dotted throughout the city. Most of them operate year-round, providing after school events in the fall, winter and spring for kids, as well as social and recreational activities for adults and senior citizens.
With so many community-based locations, the recreational center has become a staple of many city neighborhoods.
The Mary E. Rodman Center, for instance, located on the 3600 block of West Mulberry in Allendale, opened in 1975 and has been a fixture for two generations.
Not surprisingly, the prospect of losing a neighborhood cornerstone doesn’t sit well with parents like Tameka Franklin. Franklin’s seven-year-old daughter, Shaniya Smith has spent two summers at the Rodman Center, and may have to find a new place to play after school and next June.
Tameka Franklin: This rec means so much to this neighborhood even for myself because I live right down the street. It takes two minutes to walk to the camp. I love the staff. It’s taking a big part away this neighborhood and now like parents such as myself. You now have to venture out further to go places you’ve never been before to find a good rec for your child.
Kent: The answer for Shaniya Smith and other children is a short distance from Mary Rodman, but not so easy to get to.
This is the corner of Allendale Street and Edmondson Avenue, otherwise known as Route 40. The children and adults who use the Mary Rodman Center will be expected to travel the five blocks, one half mile from there to the Edgewood-Lyndhurst Center at 835 Allendale. The Edgewood Center is a converted field house which opened seven years ago, as four local women lobbied the city for a new facility, the first of its kind in Baltimore in 30 years. The Edgewood Center is attached to a police sub-station, has a relatively new gym and considerably more space than the Mary Rodman Center. But, to get there, many of the kids who currently walk a short distance to a small center in their neighborhood, will have to cross a highway – this highway.
Bill Tyler believes the upgrades the community will receive at the Edgewood facility will more than make up for the distance the Rodman constituents have to travel to get there. For instance, Tyler said, the Rodman Center, a circular building, has one main room with smaller rooms orbiting it. There’s no gym there and very little in the way of athletic fields to speak of. The Edgewood-Lyndhurst facility is considerably larger, has park land and room to expand.
Bill Tyler: At some point, we have to get away from this model that says, ‘I’m comfortable with what I have’ and look at what’s possible and that’s what we’re trying to do here, to show what’s possible.
Kent: The city will operate, or program, as Tyler describes it, 31 of the 55 centers year-round. Some centers are currently being leased by the city school system, while others are being leased by private operators. Four centers, Crispus Attucks, Parkview, Central Rosemont and Harlem Park, will close permanently at the end of the week. Tyler said the city hopes to lease five other centers – including Mary Rodman -- to private operators. If they can’t find someone to run the centers as after school operations, they will close also, Tyler said. The new facility, in time, Tyler said, will be part of a system of community centers that will serve larger populations than the current rec centers. Tyler said the city will bring four new or renovated community centers on line in the next two years. The centers will be three to four times the size of most rec centers and will cost about 19-million dollars to build. But that’s the future. For Adrian Boyd, who sends her two daughters to the center, its potential absence will be significant.
Adrian Boyd: It’s not going to be a good effect because you have a lot of young people that come around here. They go to the rec for game. They get off the street. They’re not hanging on the corner. They’re not on the street.
Kent: In the short and immediate term, the kids and parents who use the Mary Rodman Center as well as other facilities around the city will have to rethink how and where they get their recreation. I’m Milton Kent reporting in Baltimore for 88.1 WYPR.
You can reach the WYPR Newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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