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Recreation and Parks Department moves to spacious offices


The 24,500-square-foot brick building with green trim and tinted windows has just what the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks needs: lots of space.

After many years of tending to business in its Ellicott City headquarters and three branch offices around the county, the 25-year-old department has moved its headquarters and branches to one building at 7120 Oakland Mills Road in the Guilford community of East Columbia.

"We think we can deliver a better service by having everyone under the same roof," said Gary J. Arthur, the acting director of recreation and parks. The department oversees the county's 42 parks and garden plots and coordinates leisure and recreational programs for residents.

To celebrate the move to their new home in the two-story building, recreation and parks officials held a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony last week. The public and county workers were invited.

Visitors listened to an acoustic guitarist, munched on slices from two cakes and toured the building. They noted the first floor's sky-lights, registration area, conference room and rear garage. Upstairs, they saw the director's office, workstations and a conference room-library, with six bare wooden bookshelves.

"I love it," said Joyce Daniel, an administrative aide for the bureau of recreation who previously worked in the Ellicott City main office. "It's very spacious."

A plant lover, Ms. Daniel said she likes the building's tinted windows. The tinting serves an important function.

"If we didn't have it, it would be real hot," Mr. Arthur said in his second-floor office. "I could grow tomatoes on my desk."

Because of the new, centralized office, the ever-growing department's workers "are able to eliminate a lot of duplication of services," Mr. Arthur said. In the past, callers to the main office were frequently transferred to another office that could handle their calls.

Twenty-five years ago, the department, then new, worked in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. The department was chartered to plan and provide park maintenance and design recreation activities for citizens, such as summer camps and other programs.

When it opened in 1969, the department started with three full-time employees. Ten years later, the department had grown to 47 full-time workers -- 12 in the bureau of recreation and 35 in the bureau of parks.

Now 125 people work full-time for the department, and 300 others fill part-time positions.

Mr. Arthur said the growth in the department came during a time when the county's population was soaring. Since he started with the department in 1979, the county's population jumped from about 115,000 to more than 216,000.

During the same period, the number of people registering for the department's various programs increased to more than 60,000 a year from just 10,000 to 12,000 a year.

In 1987, the department moved its headquarters to the Howard County Executive Center on North Ridge Road in Ellicott City.

But to accommodate continued growth, officials considered leasing or buying space. They chose the latter and purchased the old Ryland Home Manufacturing Plant for $1.8 million in Guilford. This latest move was phased in beginning in January. By March, all offices were moved, Mr. Arthur said.

"For the first time, we have all of our people [about 125 employees] under one roof," he said.

"It makes life a lot easier for us," said Ms. Daniel, adding the workers who share similar job duties now are grouped in the same area. For example, all the clerks work together.

In addition to housing all its employees, the Guilford building allows recreation and parks to store tractors and other pieces of equipment on site. There also is plenty of parking for employees and visitors.

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