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Charles Villagers brainstorm ideas for new community center

Ideas range from dance classes to discussion of Zimmerman verdict

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

6:05 AM EDT, July 23, 2013

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Now that Baltimore City's former Barclay Recreation Center has reopened as a privately run community center, residents are figuring out what to do with it.

Toward that end, 30 people gathered on July 16 at the newly named 29th Street Community Center to brainstorm ideas for programming at the building, 300 W. 29th St., and how to pay for it.

The meeting was sponsored by the nonprofit Greater Homewood Community Corp., which now runs the center in a public-private partnership with nearby Barclay Elementary/Middle School.

"It's amazing the opportunities we have in this building," said Hannah Gardi, director of the center and a Greater Homewood community builder. "We are trying to make it exactly what you want it to be."

The underutilized, 7,300-square-foot former recreation center, located next to Barclay Elementary/Middle, made its debut as a community center May 18. The two-story facility includes an upstairs multi-purpose room that can be used when school is not in session. Downstairs is a kitchen, offices and an exercise room.

Current programming includes a Super Kids summer camp sponsored by the Parks and People Foundation, a basketball camp, a dance program and three community-led art programs. A 16-member community advisory council will help plan programming for the fall and beyond.

Suggestions at last week's meeting ranged from dance, science and computer classes to a meeting space for job training, career counseling, book clubs, neighborhood associations meetings and recreational sports.

But some had loftier goals. Karen DeCamp, Greater Homewood's director of neighborhood programs, said that in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, she was thinking "about getting people together to talk about issues."

"We tend to come together when there's a crisis," said Debra Evans, of Waverly.

Other ideas included using the center as a space for art studios, birthday parties, environmental groups like the Sierra Club, and gardening clubs starting in the spring.

"People get itchy in the spring," said Debra Mathews, of Charles Village.

Another question was how much people could afford to pay for programming and activities.

"Not much," several people at the meeting said in unison.

Ideas included class fees as low as $3 and weekly dues for the use of the community center.

The advisory council now will review all of the ideas.

"Know that we are listening," Gardi said.