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Five groups vie to run city rec centers

ProtestStephanie Rawlings-BlakeBernard C. Young

Five groups submitted bids to manage Baltimore recreation centers Wednesday, including two groups that would charge significant monthly fees for after-school programs that have traditionally been free.

The bids mark the beginning of the second phase of the cash-strapped city's attempts to find private parties to take over some centers so it can improve other centers with limited resources. After awarding four centers to third-party groups last month, the city sought bidders for 11 other centers.

Youth Sports Program, which currently operates programs at four elementary schools, would charge a $50 monthly fee for before- and after-school care at East Baltimore's Oliver and Greenmount centers, according to the group's proposal.

A second group, the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, would charge participants $30 a month for after-school programs, including tutoring and sports at the Parkview center near Druid Hill Park.

According to its website, the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge espouses a black nationalist doctrine. Videos on the site depict members dressed in long robes delivering racially charged rants at subway stops.

"It's not wrong for black people to hate white people," a leader identified as Gen. Yahanna says in one video. "As a matter of fact, God commanded that we do it. We're going to show you that Jesus Christ hated white people too."

A third group, John Darrell Brantley Financial Services, submitted an application to run the Oliver center, as well as two centers that the city is not looking to hand over to a third party. The group, which also applied in the last round of bids, did not specify programs it would offer at the center.

Diamonds on the Rise Inc. offered a bid to run the Hilton Rec Center, a former Police Athletic League facility in West Baltimore. The group would offer fitness and cooking classes, sports, self-esteem sessions and homework assistance, according to its bid.

Park Heights Renaissance submitted its second application to take over the Towanda Center in Park Heights. That center has been closed for several months because of maintenance problems, Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Gwendolyn Chambers said.

Julio Colon, Park Heights Renaissance's executive director, said city officials dismissed its first bid because of a technicality. His group, which the city has chosen to oversee the redevelopment of Park Heights, would offer programs for teenage mothers and senior citizens, as well as etiquette classes, mentoring and college preparation. The Baltimore City Entertainers marching band would run its programs at the center, and sports would be offered as well, according to the proposal.

The application for Youth Sports Program, which proposed charging a monthly fee, included letters of recommendation from the four schools in which it runs before- and after-school programs.

The group would offer clubs for teen girls and boys, programs to encourage men to be involved in family life, mentoring and a summer camp.

Recreation and Parks officials will review the new bids, then recommend to the city's Board of Estimates whether any should be accepted, Chambers said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she wants to build four rec centers and improve the facilities and programming at 26 others. The remaining 25 centers — as well as five that were previously closed — could be transferred to businesses or nonprofits.

The mayor warned last year that as many as 10 centers could close because of budget constraints, but recreation officials have vowed since then to keep them open.

Rawlings-Blake says children and families will be drawn to newly renovated and well-maintained centers, and that the current network of understaffed and dilapidated centers is not benefiting children.

But youth advocates fear that centers given to private operators will eventually close.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has publicly criticized the mayor's initiative, saying the city should maintain its own centers. Protesters affiliated with the Occupy Baltimore movement staged a demonstration at a park near City Hall last weekend to show their opposition to the plan.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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