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Baltimore City

For first time in decades, most Baltimore rec centers now open on Saturdays

Nasir El participates in a fitness class at C.C. Jackson Recreation Center in northwest Baltimore.  City recreation centers are now open on Saturdays.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young enthusiastically stripped off his jacket, grabbed a basketball and began shooting dozens of 3-pointers Saturday at the Morrell Park Recreation Center.

There were plenty more misses than hits. “I’m going to come back when I have my tennis shoes on where I can plant my feet,” the mayor said.

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But the biggest “make" may have been that the recreation center — along with dozens of others — was open at all.

According to the city, this weekend marks the first time most Baltimore City-operated rec centers have operated on Saturdays since the 1970s.

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Mayor Bernard C. “‘Jack” Young shoots baskets at Morrell Park Recreation Center to announce that most city rec centers will be open Saturdays for the first time since the 1970s.

“It gives them a safe haven, a safe place to come,” Young said as kids shot baskets and others finger-painted in an arts and crafts room. "There is a direct link to keeping people out of crime. It’s a crime fighter. "

The city maintains 44 rec centers, most built in the in the late 1960s and 1970s. Eight already had some Saturday hours while running special programming, including sports activities, entrepreneurship, and mentorship.

But the other 36 had been closed on Saturdays, and word was still getting out that a more welcoming schedule began this weekend. The centers will remain closed on Sundays.

At midday, just a few kids were playing at the James D. Gross Recreation Center in Parklane, where the new Saturday hours begin at 10:00 and end at 6:00 p.m. The ping-pong, air hockey and pool tables weren’t being used even as pop music blared from a Bluetooth speaker nearby.

“This is the first day, so I’m probably sure once the kids start realizing that the centers are really open, you’ll start seeing more and more of them coming in,” the mayor said.

City officials described Saturdays overall as a day in which parents often struggle to keep kids engaged in activities rather than playing games on their phones.

“Obesity in youth is at an all-time high, and weekends are a lot of idle time,” said Department of Recreation & Parks Executive Director Reginald Moore, who toured many of the centers Saturday.

Kenneth Bourne helps Jessica Sampson learn an exercise in fitness class at C.C. Jackson Recreation Center in northwest Baltimore.  Shemika Satchell is on left.  City recreation centers are now open on Saturdays.

Besides offering athletic activities, Moore said, the city was planning to expand less traditional offerings. A course in music production and disc-jockey skills that has been offered during the week will now be provided at select centers on Saturdays.

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The Saturday hours were made possible when the City Council earmarked $2.6 million for the agency. The money was in a $2.9 billion budget approved in June by the City Council for the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.

The money enabled the department to hire 40 new staff members and fund such programming as community gardening, game nights, and health and wellness seminars.

The city had long struggled to find new recreation funding.

In one of her first acts after her 2016 election, former Mayor Catherine Pugh canceled a plan of her predecessor — Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — to sell four of Baltimore’s downtown parking garages to raise up to $60 million for rec centers. Pugh resigned in May following disclosures over sales of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Young, the former City Council president, has long advocated building new rec centers and adding lighted fields.

“My whole career has been based on rec centers,” he said Saturday. But he said the parking garages were money-makers for the city and should not be sold.

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In the 1980s, Baltimore had more than 100 recreation centers. The city has been working in recent years to renovate and reopen centers, including the Morrell Park center in 2014, the first new one built in more than a decade.

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Pugh reopened the Crispus Attucks Recreation Center in West Baltimore’s Madison Park in 2017 after a five-year closure. Last month, Young announced the reopening of the Harlem Park Recreation Center in West Baltimore nearly seven years after it was closed.

Volunteer Djuan Holmes and Recreation Aid Rainelle Royal play a game of tag football with kids at C.C. Jackson Recreation Center in northwest Baltimore.  City recreation centers are now open on Saturdays.

Some of the centers that already had Saturday hours have been overcrowded.

At the CC Jackson center in Park Heights, “We had to tell people in the fitness room to come out so others could come in,” said rec leader Rainelle Royal, whom the kids call “Grandma” or “Miss Nellie.”

Derek Jackson, a CC Jackson rec aide, said people had been traveling five miles to come to that center, but that maybe the other centers will relieve some of the pressure now.

“We’re overloaded with kids. Everybody was down here," said Jackson. "We’d have 150 people on Saturdays."

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But the staff said it didn’t mind the crowds because it believes the rec programming is making a difference in people’s lives.

“We’ve got martial arts, exercise class, basketball, football, computer labs, a mentor group,” Jackson said. “This is a safe haven if you need somebody to talk to.”


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