State gives city funds for parks programs


Baltimore will receive $4.6 million from the state for 15 parks and recreation programs, state and city officials said yesterday.

The annual infusion of money from the state's Program Open Space was greeted enthusiastically by city parks advocates.

"It's a good thing to be getting those dollars," said Marvin F. Billups Jr. , who takes over Oct. 23 as the city director of recreation and parks. "Now we have to get them off the drawing board and bidded out in a reasonable time."

The projects include upgrading eight playgrounds and renovating the Druid Hill Park Conservatory and the signature Patterson Park Pagoda.

"Hopefully, it's a new day," said Sandy Sparks, chair of the Baltimore Alliance for Great Urban Parks. "But there's a long history of not getting things done."

For three years, from 1997 until earlier this year, three Baltimore play lots were rebuilt, though Program Open Space allotted enough money - $1.8 million - to improve 18 city playgrounds.

Most likely, the new improvements will only scratch the surface of a larger problem, because 80 of Baltimore's roughly 300 playgrounds were judged unsafe for children, according to a survey conducted last year by the Playing Safe Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations. Lead paint, broken glass and rough asphalt are common hazards.

In addition, Baltimore's parks are greatly in need of revitalization, according to a just-published national report, Inside City Parks, by Peter Harnik. The report, released by the Trust for Public Land, ranked the city 20th among the top 25 American city park systems, based on per capita spending for recreation and parks.

As a result, some park advocates feel a sense of urgency when it comes to children's play areas.

"I feel very strongly: Go into the community and fix these dangerous playgrounds," said Peggy Stansbury, a city recreation and parks board member.

Among the playgrounds scheduled to be spruced up this year include those in Curtis Bay, Hampden and Carroll Park.

Other projects include: acquisition of 10 more acres for the Gwynns Falls Greenway, for $150,000; resurfacing tennis and basketball courts at four recreation centers for $262,500; and modernizing the restrooms for disabled access at Cylburn Mansion and the Patterson Park bathhouse for $300,000.

"It's a great smorgasbord of stuff, and we need to get it all accomplished," Sparks said.

The announcement of the city's share of money comes at a time of transition for the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Late last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley went against the wishes of most City Council members and appointed Billups, a division chief for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Prince George's County. He will succeed Thomas V. Overton, a career recreation and parks manager, on whose behalf many council members lobbied O'Malley.

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