Baltimore’s $2.9 billion budget would reopen all city rec centers on Saturdays

Greenmount Recreation Center, featuring feathers representing birds found in Maryland. 2304 Greenmount Ave. – Original Credit: Maria Wolfe/Baltimurals (Maria Wolfe/Baltimurals / HANDOUT)

All of Baltimore’s 43 recreation centers will begin opening their doors on Saturdays, under a $2.9 billion spending plan to be voted on Tuesday by the City Council. The last time most rec centers were open during the weekend was the late 1970s.

Council President Brandon Scott said the details of how late the centers will be open and what programs will be available to kids must still be worked out. He said the $2.6 million investment reflects a budget priority for the council and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s new administration.

“It’s unacceptable that they have not been open before this point,” Scott said. “This needed to happen a long time ago. For me, moving forward things have to be done differently.”

Scott said spending on young people also includes $13 million for the Children and Youth Fund, $560,000 to fix up at least a dozen basketball and tennis courts throughout the city and an additional $100,000 for the CollegeBound Foundation that helps low-income and first-generation Baltimore students earn degrees.

The city will spend $530 million on the police department, including an additional $20 million that will primarily go to information technology upgrades required under the federal consent decree. About $5 million will pay for raises and incentives guaranteed under a new police union contract, but officials say schedule changes for patrol officers should save enough in overtime costs to cover that amount.

The spending plan keeps the city on track to continue rolling back the property tax rate homeowners pay. By 2021, the effective rate for owner-occupied homes is set to reach its lowest level in 50 years of just under 2 percent per $100 of assessed property value. The rate beginning July 1 will be $2.048.

Councilman Eric Costello, chairman of the budget and appropriations committee, said eight of the city’s 43 rec centers have been open on Saturdays since 2017 under a violence-reduction initiative.

It is not clear how soon the rest will open for the weekend day. The city Department of Recreation and Parks is talking to young people about the types of programs they want, and the agency will have to hire more staff and figure out what hours to operate.

Reginald Moore, the director of the city’s recreation and parks department, said the staff is talking to community members — including the youth — to make plans. Among some of the things kids say they want to do at the rec centers is to learn how to mix music like a disc jockey. Kids are also into “silent disco parties” where each one has a pair of headphones and can switch between stations and dance together, he said.

Moore said the agency wants to design Saturday programs that will appeal to young people of all ages, drawing younger kids during the day and teens into the evening hours.

“Let’s create recreation that is best for the community, not what we think is best for the community,” Moore said. “We have to make sure we deliver.”

In 2012, the decision by a former mayoral administration to close about 20 of the city’s 55 rec centers was met with much criticism. Before that, closures over time had been gradual. The city operated 76 centers in 1991.

The idea behind the closures was to operate fewer, but higher quality centers after years of disinvestment that left many centers in disrepair and unused by kids.

A number of centers have reopened since then, including the Rita R. Church Community Center at Clifton Park. Renovations on that center were compete by the summer of 2013, featuring Greek-style columns, exposed wooden beams, skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Moore said another three centers will be open by next summer, bringing the total back up to 46.

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