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Barclay Recreation Center to become community hub

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Barclay Recreation Center, its future once in doubt as Baltimore City pushed forward with plans to close, privatize or overhaul 55 recreation centers citywide, will start its new life next week as a community center serving the Charles Village-Oakenshawe area.

The Department of Recreation and Parks on Aug. 22 will turn over the under-utilized, 7,300-square-foot building, 2900 Barclay St., to the city public school next door, Barclay Elementary/Middle, which will operate it as a social and education center in a public-private partnership with the nonprofit Greater Homewood Community Corp.

Programming at the center under the new partnership will begin Oct. 1, said Gwendolyn Chambers, a spokeswoman for Recreation and Parks.

The transition date was originally Aug. 10, but was pushed back, said John Bernet, assistant director of neighborhood programs for Greater Homewood, a community-building organization based in Charles Village that works with 40 neighborhoods in north and central Baltimore.

The school system will cover utilities and major capital costs, Bernet said. Although the center is structurally sound and is in good condition overall, “God forbid if the roof should collapse,” he said.
Barclay Elementary/Middle and Greater Homewood will be responsible for custodial maintenance and shoveling snow, as part of the partnership’s business plan for the center, Bernet said.

The center is expected to offer a range of free and fee-based classes and services, from yoga to job skills training and classes t6o help people earn their high school equivalency diplomas, Bernet said. It will carve out a separate niche from the nearby Village Learning Place, a community-run library, social and after-school center in Charles Village, and the Y of Central Maryland, in Waverly, Bernet said.

“The vision has been to turn it into a community center, serving everyone in the neighborhood, from children to seniors,” Bernet said.

The center, with its gymnasium and kitchen, can offer recreational activities and cooking classes, for example, he said.

Community involvement

A community advisory council is being formed to help the partnership plan programming and better define what neighborhoods the center will serve, including Charles Village, Harwood, Oakenshawe, Waverly and possibly Old Goucher in south Charles Village, Bernet said. A council meeting is being planned for later this month and a community meeting in the fall, he said.

Bernet said Barclay Elementary/Middle Principal Jenny Heinbaugh jumped at the chance to use the recreation center, because, “Barclay School is pretty pressed for space.”
Greater Homewood agreed to be a partner and act as the lead agency.

“We knew it was underutilized,” Bernet said.

Blair Johnson, a professor in Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, has done a business plan for the partnership and created a survey to find out what area residents would like to see in the center, Bernet said. Click here to take the survey.

Heinbaugh was on vacation and could not be reached for comment, but Assistant Principal Stacey Royster said, “We are very excited.”

A major focus will be to offer programming to neighborhood children and youths, such as job training classes for teens, Royster said.

“We wanted to do something to get the youth off the streets,” she said.

The school has no shortage of volunteers to help out at the center, Royster said.

“We even have someone who is going to help parents write resumes,” she said.

She also envisions classes ranging from self-defense to dance and exercise. And she said the center is getting 20 computers, so the partnership can offer technology classes for seniors.

No stranger to partnerships

The private-public partnership represents a new beginning for the center at a time when Baltimore MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeis carrying out plans to close four recreation centers as part of a $20 million plan to create a system of fewer but higher-quality centers, featuring updated facilities and expanded programs.

As of May, the city planned to build and renovate four state-of-art, centrally located “community centers,” operate 31 “improved” centers, and turn other centers over to private operators or schools, according to the Recreation and Parks website, http://bcrp.baltimorecity.gov.

Barclay, one of six recreation centers attached to schools, is no stranger to community, business and academic partnerships. Barclay Elementary/Middle, also known as the Barclay School, is one of 20 schools in the city that are classified by the school system as community schools.

The school has its own community school site coordinator, Kelly Oglesbee, who works for Greater Homewood. Her job is to develop partnerships at the school for everything from tutoring to providing eyeglasses for children who can’t afford them. Among the school’s 28 different partners are the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Concern and Goucher College.

“We’ve been involved with the school for many years,” said Karen DeCamp, Greater Homewood director of neighborhood programs.

Greater Homewood also provides site coordinators for Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle in Charles Village, Guilford Elementary and Wavery Elementary/Middle, DeCamp said.

Since Barclay Recreation Center is attached to the school, its transition to a community center would be beneficial to the community, DeCamp said..

 “It would be a real tragedy to have that center sit empty,” she said. “We see that center as a real asset in the community that’s completely underutilized, with anemic programming. The goal s to have it serve not just the school, but the community.”

But DeCamp said community involvement in charting the center’s future is important, too.

“It’s going to have to be something that takes its cue from the community,” she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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