The cash-starved Department of Recreation and Parks has money to adequately operate only half of the 86 recreation centers it now runs, says a consultant's report being reviewed by the city.
As a result, the city should consider turning control of many centers over to private organizations or shutting some entirely, says the report, which has the tentative endorsement of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"We have to shrink the number of buildings we're responsible for to be able to do a sound job of running them," Laura Scott Perry, president of the city's Board of Recreation and Parks, said yesterday.
Schmoke said that he wants the parks board to "take a look at the report" and then build a "community consensus" on a plan to implement its recommendations.
The report calls for the city to establish four regional recreation centers, to replace some of those that would be phased out.
Adjacent to eight of the city's large athletic fields, the department currently maintains eight one- or two-room buildings for recreational purposes. The report says that within the next two years the city should close all eight of those small "field houses" -- a proposal likely to meet with community opposition.
The report also would require many recreation employees to move to new centers.
"There is going to be a lot of discussion of these issues," said Schmoke, who said the recommendations should be do-able so long as the affected communities are involved throughout the process.
The mayor added that he would like decisions reached on even the more controversial recommendations by the end of the year.
The report was funded by the Abell Foundation under the auspices of the Parks and People Foundation. The report was done Joe Caverly, a Westchester, N.Y., recreation consultant.
Past proposals to close recreation centers have been met with stiff community opposition. As a result, most of them have stayed open, even as staff and maintenance budgets, center hours and community involvement shrank.
The report says that Baltimore has the nation's highest number of recreation centers per capita. But many of those centers are run on bare-bones budgets with resources for new equipment and organized programs coming not from the city budget but from community people and volunteers.