To hear the youth of Patterson Park tell it, most of the usual fun and games at the neighborhood recreation center stopped when Mark Burke left three months ago: no more pingpong tournaments, children's soccer league, Wednesday night basketball or dance classes.
For eight years, Mr. Burke had organized these programs at the redbrick building in the 2600 block of E. Baltimore St.
But in October he was promoted to a director's position at the recreation center in Carroll Park.
Since then, residents say that Milton Wolfe, the full-time director of Patterson Park's center and ice rink, has refused to replace equipment and has seemed more inclined to close the center early than to put together a Thursday night volleyball game.
Efforts to contact Mr. Wolfe were unsuccessful.
'Like a father'
Last month, more than 220 children, young adults and their parents signed a petition calling for Mr. Burke's return to the recreation center.
The president of the Linwood Association, a neighborhood group, has written to the city asking for an explanation of its plan for the building.
"Mr. Burke was like a father to some people," said Derrick Riley, 22, who grew up in the neighborhood and attends Dundalk Community College.
"He would help you with personal problems," Mr. Riley added. "Some people would go to the rec center just to talk to him."
Despite the pleas, it's unlikely Mr. Burke, 41, will return to Patterson.
Recreation and parks officials say that a replacement, Donald Salamone, is on the way.
A hangout again?
The question is whether he will be able to make the center the neighborhood's main after-school hangout again.
"Most people around the neighborhood don't even go up there since [Mr. Burke] left. It's not worth it," said Thomas M. Cero, 20, who has been using the center since he was 5. "All the programs that Mark had are gone. So kids go elsewhere, play outside or stay home."
For the past two weeks, the center has been shuttered as the city attempts to fix a leaky roof and a faulty heating system.
But those are only a few of the problems.
A videotape of the center's interior, filmed early last month by a former part-time employee, shows missing ceiling tiles, flickering lights, and broken Foosball and pingpong tables.
Perhaps more tellingly, the tape offers glimpses of a virtually empty building on a Friday afternoon; employees say Friday had been one of the center's busiest days.
Teen-agers say that since Mr. Burke's departure, part-time staffers have kept the building running, but there isn't much to do besides shooting baskets and lifting weights.
Criticism of Wolfe 'unfair'
Cheryl Jordan, assistant director of recreation and parks, says criticism of Mr. Wolfe is unfair.
"He has been doing double duty -- running the rec center and the ice rink," she said.
But residents say the city has been unresponsive to their concerns about the center. Hubert de Montagnac, the Linwood Association president, says he wrote a letter Dec. 5 to the Department of Recreation and Parks to request a meeting after Mr. Wolfe did not return his calls.
Mr. de Montagnac has not received a reply.
John Runk, the part-time employee who made the videotape and helped organize the petition drive, said that Ms. Jordan called him a "troublemaker" and removed him from his job when he complained about the condition of the center. Ms. Jordan would not comment on that.