Baltimore City

Protesters, council members seek clarity on recreation centers

A day after a hearing with Recreation and Parks officials, residents and City Council members were questioning the mayor's plans for consolidating and renovating or closing the city's 55 recreation centers.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said that two dozen centers could be turned over to private operators or closed at the end of December. At the hearing, Bill Tyler, chief of recreation, said his agency's objective was to keep all the centers open with their full hours and staff.


But Andrew W. Kleine, the city's budget director, said fulfilling those wishes would be unlikely after Jan. 1 because the department's budget would be slashed in the second half of the fiscal year.

"I'm not really sure what the plan is," said the Rev. Glenna Reed Huber on Thursday afternoon. A leader of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, she addressed the council hearing Wednesday night in support of keeping all of the centers open. "Right now, we're just confused."


Rawlings-Blake needs to clarify what is going to happen with the centers, said Huber, who was accompanied by dozens of children and parents.

Recreation and Parks requested proposals from private operators to take over centers, and expected some private entities to be involved by the end of the year.

In early October, the city received applications to run only 16 centers — about half the number Rawlings-Blake wants to transfer — forcing Recreation and Parks to restart the process of seeking private operators, Tyler said.

A meeting will be held Nov. 30 for those interested in applying to run centers, he said.

Requesting proposals a second time will push back the hand-over of centers to private entities by several months and into next year, even though the city's current budget was approved under the assumption that some centers would change hands by Jan. 1.

Funds allocated to recreation centers are reduced after that date, and a delay in transferring centers to private holders will mean a reduction in hours or staffing at some centers, said Kleine.

He made clear the city was not considering a supplemental budget measure for recreation centers, in response to an inquiry from Councilman James B. Kraft.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who expressed concern about where funding would come from in 2012 to keep service at current levels, had not received clarification from the city on the recreation center plan by Thursday afternoon.


"I took away good news that no rec centers would close in this year," Clarke said by phone. "But I know that to maintain the same operations they would need … additional [funds]."

Like Huber, Clarke said she was waiting for Rawlings-Blake and Recreation and Parks to get on the same page.

"I think that was at the heart of the confusion people were hearing last night," she said.

Emails and phone calls to the mayor's office were not returned.

Wednesday's hearing was requested last week by Councilman Bill Henry and was supported by 12 of the 15 council members. Greg Bayor, the Recreation and Parks director, was not available for the hearing.

Before the hearing, a small group from Hampden gathered outside City Hall to protest the mayor's proposed transfer of the neighborhood's Roosevelt Recreation Center to a private operator.