Turners Station residents irked by rec center cuts, neglect


The people in the small, isolated southeastern Baltimore County village of Turners Station don't know the ins and outs of a $1.1 billion county budget that's controlled from faraway Towson.

But they know what it means when their recreation center worker is promoted to a new location and not replaced, and when their community building, a former school house called the Fleming Center, isn't being cleaned or maintained properly.

They also know how to call a meeting and complain. In fact, they've called two, and they're still complaining.

Peggy Patterson's complaint may be the loudest, but she's by no means alone.

Mrs. Patterson, 57, who has grandchildren in day care at the center, considers herself a relative newcomer in this historic black enclave of Dundalk. She moved there in 1946.

Her neighbors and friends all were born and grew up in the little community at the end of a small peninsula, across the mouth of Bear Creek from Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant and virtually under an approach to the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Once called "Steelton," Turners Station was created early in the century to house black workers at the Bethlehem plant and their families.

It expanded quickly as more blacks went to work at "The Point" during World War II.

"We have problems in this community," said Dunbar Brooks, a school board member and Turners Station native. "We have a drug problem. We want to get the kids off the corners. We want that center staffed full time."

Residents said the community is a poor one, with traditional Dundalk-area manufacturing jobs disappearing and replacements hard to find.

Given its isolation, Turners Station has depended on its recreation center as a focus of community life.

Last year, the recreation center provided games and activities for more than 150 neighborhood kids.

But because of budget cuts, the program has been trimmed from six weeks to five weeks this summer, and from 30 hours a week to 25. Instead of two recreation leaders, the youngsters will have only one.

The old Fleming Center building, renovated a decade ago with federal funds, also houses a program for senior citizens, a pool room and dining room, a Head Start program for preschoolers and a day-care program.

Outside, there are basketball and tennis courts, a small fishing pier, three baseball diamonds and three small playgrounds for the day-care and Head Start youngsters.

Joyce Steadman, senior center director, complained that the lack of a cleaning service has left the center with dirty floors, and with roaches and mice in the seniors' dining room.

The center staff and residents complain that a building used from early morning until after dark needs regular, vigorous maintenance.

Charles L. Fisher, deputy county recreation director, confirmed that no one replaced the center's full-time custodian when he hurt his back five months ago and stopped working.

There are a couple of part-time people helping out, and the injured man may return to work in June, Mr. Fisher said.

But Mrs. Patterson said she found it mighty suspicious when county authorities came up with $1,000 for custodial care and had the building thoroughly cleaned just before the May 18 public meeting at which Mr. Fisher and county Councilman Donald C. Mason, a 7th District Democrat, appeared.

Mrs. Patterson said the neglect has also fueled fears that the county might try to wrest the waterfront building and park away from the community.

The residents are worried about construction of a new Maryland Toll Facilities Police headquarters nearby, and there's talk of adding a second two-lane elevated highway to the Key Bridge approach.

But county officials say the fears are groundless.

Mr. Mason wouldn't support any more cuts in the recreation department's budget than those imposed already by County Executive Roger B. Hayden. He repeated Mr. Fisher's promise that Turners Station's needs will be reconsidered after the budget for fiscal 1993 is adopted by the County Council May 28.

Community activists weren't pleased to hear Mr. Fisher say that Turners Station's problems are no worse than those in any other recreation district.

For example, the countywide budget for part-time summer recreation center workers was cut from $124,000 in fiscal 1992 to only $40,046 next year.

"We lost 12 positions," Mr. Fisher said. He said if he can find the money, he will try to replace Karen Brown, the center director whose promotion at the end of this month will leave the Fleming Center without a regular staff recreation worker.

"We don't have any more money. We don't make money," he said.

After Karen Brown's promotion, Turners Station will be supervised on a part-time basis by another county worker based elsewhere in Dundalk.

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