A task force convened by Rawlings-Blake last year endorsed a plan to improve the quality of city-owned rec centers and hand others off to third parties.

Ralph Moore Jr., a task force member and the director of East Baltimore's St. Frances Community Center, said city officials had said there were many groups interested in taking over the centers. He said that given the threat of closures, he now regrets supporting the concept of putting the centers in private hands.

"We were led to believe there were as many as 55 expressions of interest," he said. "This is still the city's responsibilty. We have have an obligation to our youth and the people who use these facilities."

In August, during the mayoral primary campaign, Rawlings-Blake pledged to maintain 55 rec centers at a forum hosted by the interfaith coalition BUILD.

When asked, "Will you create 55 high-quality community centers so that all neighborhoods have access to recreation?" Rawlings-Blake answered "Yes."

O'Doherty said that the mayor's response indicated that "she supports the goal of improving recreation opportunities for kids," and that her more nuanced written answer laid out her plan for the city to run only about 30 centers itself.

"We have to get out of this mentality that providing a too-small rec center that is understaffed and in poor condition … is helping kids," he said. "It's not."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said that he did not agree with the task force's recommendations.

"I really don't support the new model," he said. "I believe every neighborhood in the city should have a center in close proximity."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke attended a protest in Hampden this week led by people worried that the Roosevelt Recreation Center would be closed.

The center's advisory council is equipped to run programs at the center and contribute some funds, but it does not have the money required by the request for proposals, she said.

"I think we had somewhat of a disconnect. Neighborhood organizations and nonprofits thought that they were working toward a partnership to assume some of the operations and financial burden," she said. "But the [request for proposals] is a horse of another color. It requires you to be very well-heeled."

Kenneth Darden, president and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore, said his group bid to operate South Baltimore's Brooklyn-O'Malley Recreation Center. The organization currently runs tutoring, sports and crafts programs in five locations, he said.

"We're used to responding to large [proposal requests], so it wasn't that daunting," he said. The group had funding from the national office that would allow them to begin running the center in November, Darden said.

The other bids came from Park Heights Renaissance Inc., John Darrell Brantley Financial Services, Omega Baltimore Foundation, Reclaiming Our Children and Community Project, Little Dimples II Corp. and Granny's Place.