Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. avoided the traditional ribbon-cutting at the official opening of the Northeast Regional Recreation Center on Tuesday and went right for the goal. A crowd of about 100 onlookers, including the Baltimore Blast champion soccer team, counted down from 5 and Smith kicked toward the goal three times.

"I will get the ball by him," he said of Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, who was standing in the goal. Smith proved no match for the seasoned goalie and longtime soccer coach.

The brief scrimmage was an appropriate way to open the county's newest and largest indoor recreation center. The county purchased the Perring Racquet Club in Parkville in June for $4.3 million and has worked for the past five months to renovate the 90,000-square-foot facility on Oakleigh Road. The $2.6 million renovation brought the 36-year-old building up to the latest safety and access standards. The work included replacing and repairing artificial turf and installing shatterproof boards to allow spectators a clearer, safer view of the fields.

"I remember the Plexiglas was so stained that you had to look over it to see the fields," said Bartenfelder, who coached and refereed recreational soccer games at the club for 15 years. "In winter, it was so cold in here that you didn't take your coat off. The only good thing was that you couldn't hear parents yelling at you for calls they didn't like."

The center will serve seven recreation councils in the county's central area. The councils have had to jockey for space and playing time, and together they have paid more than $100,000 annually in field rentals.

"This is a true renaissance," Smith said. "We took a facility with a lot of wear and tear, and transformed it into something modern that will serve the needs of large numbers."

For Bartenfelder, the center "is a dream come true. I know what it was, and I see it now open for business."

He invited the Blast players to return to the center any time to practice before a cheering crowd.

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