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Second search delayed for rec center operators

Baltimore officials have missed a self-appointed deadline to issue a new request for groups to take over the city's recreation centers, the latest twist in the city's struggle to hand over the centers to private groups.

Recreation and Parks director Gregory Bayor issued an open letter last week, saying that the city would release a second request Monday for proposals to take over the centers. Only seven bidders had responded to a previous request in August, fewer than officials had hoped.

However, officials did not post the request for proposals Monday, because, they said, they did not realize the city's spending board was not scheduled to meet this week.

"Every so often, something crops up that you don't anticipate," said recreation chief Bill Tyler.

Community leaders have been closely following efforts to turn over the centers to businesses and nonprofits. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced early this year that she planned to expand or improve 30 of the city's 55 centers and hand over the others to private groups —or close them.

But the process of finding groups to run the centers has been fraught with confusion and missed deadlines.

Recreation officials initially indicated to community and nonprofit leaders that they would be interested in groups partnering with the city to run programs in the centers. However, when the first request for proposals was released in late summer, it indicated that groups would need to secure millions of dollars in insurance coverage and pay all salaries and utilities for the centers.

That document warned bidders that they would need to take over the center as soon as Nov. 15 — a day that ultimately passed with no changes, because the bids have yet to be awarded.

The first round of bids was due in mid-October, after recreation officials granted a week extension on the deadline. Seven businesses and nonprofits applied to run a total of 16 centers.

While recreation officials have said they do not plan to close centers, the mayor's office has repeatedly warned that there is not enough money to run all of the centers after Jan. 1.

Purchasing director Joseph Mazza said that his department is prepared to make recommendations on the first round of bids, but that it has yet to apprise the mayor's office of its findings. The second request for proposals could not be released until the first bids are awarded, he said.

Tyler had initially referred questions about the missing request for proposals to purchasing. Mazza was surprised to learn that recreation officials had announced the document would be posted Monday.

City officials declined to say when the new request for proposals would be published.

Community leaders expressed frustration with the many delays.

Nina Harper, executive director of East Baltimore's Oliver Community Association, said she had planned to meet with other community leaders before a Wednesday meeting at which recreation officials are slated to explain the process, but would likely wait until after the new request for proposals came out.

"It's very much confusing," said Harper. "I don't think they know what they're doing either."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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