Baltimore Co. budget cuts endanger swim club


For the first time in its eight-year history, the Dundalk-Eastfield Swim Club team was getting team parkas.

For a recreation council swim team in a working-class area without heavy financial backing, it was a triumph. The girls were looking forward to wearing their colors.

"But we had to forgo putting the name of the team on the back because we don't know if we are going to have the team," said Stephanie Weisenborn, the volunteer coach.

The reason: Baltimore County officials are pessimistic about finding a solution that would keep open the Dundalk Recreation Center and its indoor pool, where the swim club trained.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden has eliminated money for the center from his proposed 1994 budget. The former YMCA building in old Dundalk houses many indoor recreational programs for the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council and the only indoor, Olympic-size pool in the county.

Although the budget cuts won't take effect until July, the county closed the pool three weeks ago because of problems with its filtration system. Besides the swim club, the pool is home to a dozen other recreational swim programs.

Wayne R. Harman, county recreation and parks director, said he hoped the pool could reopen this week.

When Mr. Hayden announced his governmental reorganization and layoffs in early February, he said the county would seek to find a private operator for the center. If not, the building will close after June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

"Nobody's been knocking down our doors to take over the place," Mr. Harman said. "Frankly, I'm growing more and more pessimistic that we will come up with someone between now and July 1.

"We'd like to work with the community any way we can to find a solution," said Mr. Harman. "We really don't wont to take this service away from the community. This is strictly a business decision."

That explanation doesn't satisfy 14-year-old Heidi Moore. She has been a swimmer with the Dundalk-Eastfield team for six years. During the winter, the club used the indoor pool four times a week to practice for its U.S. Swim sanctioned meets.

"What they are doing to the center is a shame," she said. "If the center and the pool isn't saved . . . we won't have a team."

Now that the Dundalk facility is closed, the club has had to scrounge pool time elsewhere. said Ms. Weisenborn. So far, all they've been able to find is two hours, one night a week at Dundalk Community College.

"It's been hard on the girls, not having their usual four days' practice. At the Junior Olympics meet last week you could see it in their slower times," she said.

"If this was Cockeysville or Pikesville we wouldn't be worrying about this," said parent Bernice Radaweic.

The county never broke even operating the pool, Mr. Harman said, a contention some associated with the recreation council dispute.

"It cost the county $85,000 a year to operate and maintain the pool," he said.

Bruce Mills, past vice president of the recreation council, said the county spent more than it had to by using a private company to maintain the facility. Mr. Harman denied that.

"The work was competitively bid," he said. "This kind of talk is just a way to sidetrack the issue."

In addition to the $85,000 for the pool, the General Services Department spends $140,000 a year for maintenance and utilities for the building.

Regardless of operating costs, Mr. Harman said, the pool was badly ventilated and moisture from it caused continuous problems with the ceiling. He said the entire building would be expensive require considerable expense to modernize.

"We contacted the YMCA hoping it would take over the building again, but the Y looked it over and decided the cost would be too high," Mr. Harman said.

He said the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council proposed leasing the building from the county for a nominal fee and operating it with volunteers -- and some financial help from the county.

"It's the best offer we've had," said Mr. Harman. "Actually, it's the only real offer we've had. We're looking at the proposal, but it would have to be without any county funding help . . ."

Last week, Mr. Hayden told residents he'd consider keeping the center open if they they could present a self-sustaining plan.

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