Measuring Bryant Woods' Loss HOWARD COUNTY

August 04, 1993

An arson fire in the Bryant Woods neighborhood of Columbia has caused at least $250,000 in damage to the neighborhood center and an adjacent pool building. Yet that's just the material loss. It does not speak to the mental and emotional scarring that such an act inflicts on a community.

Bryant Woods is part of Wilde Lake, the oldest village in Columbia. It has ties to the community going back more than two decades.

To understand the connection between communities and their neighborhood centers and villages is to realize James W. Rouse's original design for Howard County's planned city. It called for a series of neighborhoods, each housing about 3,000 people. Three or four neighborhoods would comprise a village of about 10,000.

Ten thousand people, all with their own place to go to lease space for a business, hold a public meeting, find out about a community event or entertain a group of friends. Even Columbia's system of governing by village boards takes place in its neighborhood centers.

The personal loss to Bryant Woods is intangible and therefore difficult to measure. For many, Columbia is a cocoon; crime doesn't occur at anywhere near the rate it does in other highly developed areas. Residents become complacent and as a result more vulnerable. "It's a shock when something like this happens," said Bernice Kish, manager of the Wilde Lake Village Center at Slayton House. "People think it doesn't happen here, but it does."

Ms. Kish added that the real impact will not be felt right away. In the meantime, efforts are directed at coming up with contingencies and rebuilding. A Montessori nursery school needs help in finding a new home. Community activities need to be rescheduled.

Also, the arsonist must be found and arrested. Until then there will be concern in the community. Could the perpetrator be a neighbor? Someone they know? Was it a prank that got out of control? Or a deliberate act?

Time and answers will heal the scars, and that will happen. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Columbia, Bryant Woods should have the armor to persevere. Perhaps the fire, tragic as it was, will be the catalyst for building something even better than was there before.

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