Keaser Center Dusts Itself Off To Start Over Again

December 03, 1990|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Near the end of the dingy hall, Philip Minor pushed aside the plastic tacked over a broken door and almost instinctively reached for a light switch.

But his hand stopped short in midair. The room on the left side of the dim corridor is one of three that has no heat or electricity, just scattered piles of junk and dusty furniture.

Minor shivered as he walked over to a hidden treasure that appeared destined for the trash during last week's massive housecleaning.

Brushing off a layer of dust on the electric organ, he said: "I don't even know who left this here. I don't know what to do with it. Nobody wants it."

Sealed off for nearly a decade, the rooms at one end of the Lloyd Keaser Community Center in Pumphrey contain an odd collection of hand-me-downs, from mildewing boxes of remnants to dozens of defunct television sets.

The windows are covered with metal, and the floors are littered with glass from a long-ago vandalism spree. Loose insulation hangs like stuffing from ceiling panels.

"It needs a lot of work," acknowledged Minor, the 73-year-old president of Pumphrey's civic association. "We've been trying to get money from the county for years to fix this place up."

After five years of planning and fighting for financial support, a task force set up by the Taxpayers Improvement Association has persuaded county leaders to back a renovation proposal.

The civic group wants to rehab the graffiti-scarred community center on Belle Grove Road to open a Head Start pre-school program for area children.

Other plans include expanding the free lunch program for low-income seniors and offering adult day care.

"Our goal is to get something going that people will really utilize," said task force coordinator Greg Johnson.

He, Minor and other Pumphrey residents spent the last week cleaning out the rooms and even installing a new drop ceiling to prepare for a visit from Head Start officials this Thursday.

Anne Arundel County has three Head Start programs for children from low-income homes. Two are located in Annapolis projects, while a third is in Freetown in Glen Burnie.

"We're looking for a site right now in North County because we know there are a lot of eligible young children there," said Carlesa Finney, supervisor of the county's Head Start program and director of family services under the Community Action Agency.

"Even though the site is run-down, we think the Keaser Community Center is an ideal location," she added. "We want to make it come alive again. It needs to be rejuvenated."

Named after Lloyd Keaser, a well-known Pumphrey wrestler, the community center opened the same year he won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics.

When the old Pumphrey Elementary School was closed in the early 1970s, civic leaders lobbied to convert it into a center for sports and arts programs. The building was looted by local toughs who "broke in and stole what they wanted," Minor recalled. "They even took the (toilets)."

County officials sealed off half the building when they turned it over to the small, predominantly black Pumphrey neighborhood in 1976. Just why the county only donated half the school remains a mystery, though some Pumphrey residents blame the decision on "racial politics."

The center was used for meetings, weddings and banquets for years, said Minor, who has lived two blocks away since 1952. Children played basketball and tennis on the outdoor courts, while their parents met inside to discuss neighborhood improvement plans.

"It's well-recognized here because it's kind of the place for free entertainment," Minor said. "We, as black people, don't always have the money to go to a lot of places we'd like. This was the place."

Over the years, the center languished. Although the community raised money for upkeep and occasionally succeeded in netting county grants, the center needed far more financial help than it got, Minor said. Repairs, such as replacing the leaking roof, often were postponed.

The Taxpayers Association decided to tackle the problem five years ago and created a task force to raise funds and develop a blueprint for the future. Armed with a $36,000 Community Development Block Grant from the federal government, the task force installed a new roof and lights two years ago. The group also started renovating the front community room.

At the same time the task force was formed, the county reopened the sealed-off end. Minor and other men in the neighborhood converted two rooms into sports areas. They outfitted one with a large mat for karate and the other with a hand-built boxing ring, lined with mirrors and trophies won by neighborhood children.

Pumphrey's long-awaited renovation plans for the center gained momentum this fall. Joan Cadden, who was campaigning for a District 31 seat in the State House, toured the center and pledged her support. She didn't forget her promise when she won the seat.

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