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Four city rec centers to close

FinanceBernard C. Young

Four Baltimore recreation centers will shut down for good at the end of the summer as part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's strategy to target limited funds to improve some centers while closing others, officials said Tuesday.

The four centers, all in West Baltimore, are slated to close at the conclusion of their summer programs in late August. They are Crispus Attucks in Madison Park, Parkview, which is south of Druid Hill Park, and Central Rosemont and Harlem Park, which are in the neighborhoods after which they are named.

The mayor has warned for nearly two years that centers could close as part of her plan to streamline recreation funding. The city is spending more than $19 million to build centers in Morrell Park, Cherry Hill and Clifton Park and overhaul another in Patterson Park.

In a news release, the Recreation and Parks Department described the changes as a "comprehensive plan aimed at creating a network of high-quality facilities and programming."

"Under this plan, all affected communities will continue to have recreational programming," according to the release.

A spokesman said City Council Bernard C. "Jack" Young was "extremely disappointed" by the mayor's decision to close some centers.

"Rec centers for him represent more than cost-saving measures," said spokesman Lester Davis. "It's a matter of life and death. It's a matter of public safety … on par with the Police Department."

But one recreation advocate said some of the centers were beyond repair.

"Some centers just don't have what it needs to bring quality programming into the area," said Carolyn Wainright, president of the Recreation and Parks Department's advisory board.

About 60 people attended a forum last night, organized by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, to discuss the rec center plan. Charlotte and Curtis Clark, who said they live in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood served by the Carroll Improvement Association, were concerned about the future of the center nearest them, Hilton.

If the center were to close, "it would leave a lot of our children with nothing to do, no guidance, no direction," Charlotte Clark said. The Clarks, parents of children ages 13 and 14, said they hoped to work with others to expand after-school programs, summer camp and tutoring at the center.

City officials say the rec center plan was guided by a 2010 task force appointed by the mayor. The task force recommended that some centers be handed over to third parties as a cost-cutting measure. Some members of the task force later disavowed this recommendation.

Rawlings-Blake has proposed to increase spending on rec centers in the coming year by $730,000, to $11 million.

The city has had more than 50 rec centers. Under the plan, a total of eight centers are to be run by private groups under charter agreements. The city recently approved contracts for third parties to run Brooklyn O'Malley in South Baltimore, Easterwood and Lillian Jones in West Baltimore, and Collington Square in East Baltimore. The Towanda center in Park Heights and East Baltimore's Cecil Kirk are also scheduled to be handed over to private entities. Two other centers are already run by private groups.

Ten centers are to be renovated and expanded for use as community centers, and 17 others are slated to receive repairs, employ larger staffs and be open for longer hours.

The city school system will run "public education and community" programs at six centers attached to schools: Liberty, Walter P. Carter, Barclay, Violetville, Leithwalk and South Baltimore.

The status of 10 of the city's rec centers is in limbo. The Family League, a quasi-public city agency, will seek bidders to run after-school programs at these centers. If the Family League does not find groups, these centers could close: Fred B. Leidig, Furley, James McHenry, J.D. Gross, Gardenville, Hilton, Lakeland, Mary Rodman, Oliver and Solo Gibbs.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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