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Volunteers work to reopen shuttered Barclay Rec Center

A dozen neighborhood volunteers will spend their Presidents Day turning around a former city recreation center that new sponsors envision reborn as an education and community center.

After 32 years, the Barclay Recreation Center shut down in August, a victim of budget cuts in the city's Department of Recreation and Parks. Neighborhood advocates believe the 7,500-square-foot facility, constructed immediately adjacent to the Barclay Elementary/Middle School in the 300 block of E. 29th Street, can find a new life on its own. They picture a location where both students and residents can have a town hall meeting, a safe after-school spot or a place to hold a birthday party or take a yoga class.

"Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder what did I get into," John Bernet, the Greater Homewood Community Corporation's assistant director of neighborhood programs, said Sunday as he showed off an empty building that lacks a clear purpose and could use a good coat of paint.

"It has a lot of potential for this area. The people from the neighborhood want it, and if anyone has 50 or 60 chairs, that would be great."

The community association, in partnership with the Barclay Elementary/Middle has taken a lead role in reviving the building. The school system will provide utilities and other maintenance help. Barclay students are also seen as major users of the building, after school or when school is closed. The Johns Hopkins University and its Carey Business School have also taken an interest in the project, Bernet said.

Bernet and volunteers from the Abell, Charles Village and Harwood neighborhoods have agreed to start an initial cleanup of the building Monday. He said that after more than 30 years as a recreation center, its walls are pockmarked with tape from posters and art projects.

"Just brightening this place up with paint would do a lot of good," he said as he walked around upturned desks moved into halls so that floors could be stripped of wax and repolished.

Bernet says he has been encouraged by North Baltimore's ability to take on new project — and make it work. He cites the transformation of the old St. Paul Street branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library into the Village Learning Place. He said the Waverly Farmers Market was once a parking lot.

After coming to Baltimore from New Hampshire in 2004 as a Goucher College freshman, Bernet later worked on the post-arson reconstruction of Playground at Stadium Place on 33rd Street, the site of the old Memorial Stadium.

The Barclay Recreation Center opened in 1980. A plaque in the foyer states it was a project of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and constructed under the direction of the city's Department of Public Works.

Bernet said he got the keys to the rec center late last year and found it "broom clean." But the center showed signs of budget cuts and deferred upkeep.

"It had a long, hard life without a lot of love and maintenance," he said. "It will be a lot of work, but in the end, I believe it will turn out great."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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