About two dozen East Baltimore residents held signs and chanted at the entrance to the Baltimore schools headquarters this week to protest the closing of their recreation center.
Organized by the Berea Eastside Neighborhood Association, the protest Monday opposed part of the 21st-Century School Buildings Plan and Initiative that means tearing down the Fort Worthington Recreation Center in the fall in order to use the space for a new elementary school.
Protester James Samuel Brown III said the closing of the center will leave youths without guidance.
"You're taking away all their arts, sports, inspirations and mentorships. The only thing they have to learn from now are the streets, which is not a good place to get your manners and have a sense of citizenship," said Brown, who is a local volunteer. "These are inner-city kids. People don't want to deal with them. We do."
The association's president, Julius Henson, said city planners were negligent.
"The 21st Century Plan has not one word in that document that says anything about rec centers," he said.
Under the $1 billion school building plan, dilapidated schools will be renovated, rebuilt or closed. A new Fort Worthington Elementary will be built on the site of the rec center.
"Representatives from City Schools will continue to work with the City of Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks and the Berea Community Association to ensure that plans related to construction of the new Fort Worthington school building are inclusive of community use and provision of space for recreation activities," city schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said in a statement.
Henson and Beatrice Bastiany, president of the Friendly Neighborhood Association, said they doubt the school principal will allow the people who used to frequent the recreation center to make full use of the new school space.
"We want it in writing," Bastiany said. "We want a guarantee that we will have access to this school."
Bastiany said the Fort Worthington Elementary area is one of few open spaces in the neighborhood.
"You're taking away everything we have. It's not like we can go someplace else," she said.
Brown said the center is "well-used" by many community members, including senior citizens, but is particularly beneficial for youths.
"The ones that come into our rec center, they no longer come with their underwear hanging out. They don't say things like 'muthah,' 'bruthah.' They're taught correct speech: 'No, that's mother, brother.' They say thank you," he said. "Those are developments from the community. That's not from Baltimore City schools."