Bedtime is game time for some youngsters Shortage of facilities in Balto. Co. blamed

March 03, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

On most school nights, 9 p.m. means lights-out for 10-year-old Jonathan Shaffer.

But on some nights, bedtime is game time. He squares off with pals from Perry Hall and White Marsh for a recreation league indoor soccer game at the Perring Racquet Club -- a late-night ritual that is part of the suburban scramble for playing fields.

"We'll get home at 20 after 10," says Wes Shaffer, watching his son's team play. "He'll have to shower and then warm down. It will be 11 o'clock before he gets to sleep."

In the fast-growing White Marsh area, youngsters often stay up late on school nights to await their turn on the indoor soccer field.

For although White Marsh has its townhouses, its mall and its office buildings, the community, planned as a place to live, work and play, clearly lacks that last ingredient.

"We're definitely down on the play," says Baltimore County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III. "As Baltimore County was growing and developing, we essentially were not keeping pace."

No one suggests that White Marsh stands alone with this problem. Local officials are also moving to create more ball fields and parkland in Owings Mills, the county's other high-growth district. And government officials throughout the Baltimore area are accustomed to cries for more parks and more ball fields.

But play is a particularly serious issue in Baltimore County, where leaders are seeking to stanch the flow of residents to neighboring Harford and Carroll counties. Play, says County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, helps shape the quality of life.

"It all goes together," he says. "Crime [rates], schools, recreation."

Says Mr. Keller: "If you want a community where people are going to stay cradle to grave, recreation is a key component of that."

Moves are afoot to fill the void in White Marsh. One youth soccer coach is negotiating to turn an idle factory into a complex with soccer, lacrosse and roller hockey -- all under one roof. A &L partnership is considering building an indoor ice rink, possibly on parkland within the growth zone in nearby Perry Hall.

The county is looking to buy more than 30 acres for a complex of baseball fields. And Nottingham Properties Inc., developer of the White Marsh Town Center, is set to turn a barren tract into a suburban version of a downtown plaza.

Providing recreation in White Marsh has been difficult, officials say, because the very zoning changes that prompted the growth also drove up land prices.

Just ask Tobias Kaye, a Lutherville resident whose partnership considered building an ice rink in White Marsh -- and instead built IceWorld in Harford County, where land is cheaper. The Abingdon rink opened last month and, he says, has had to turn customers away on recent weekends.

He says he sought assistance from Baltimore County officials to help seal a deal in White Marsh, but no agreement was reached.

"We were looking for something by way of county parkland that we could purchase," he says. "If you're in a county management position, you need to do some work to make it easier for recreational enterprises to build in that area. We have not seen that."

"The county needs to take a very good, hard look at whether it's measuring up for the 21st century."

Director John F. Weber III says the county's Department of Recreation and Parks is searching for land in White Marsh -- particularly in the planned community of Honeygo -- for use as ball fields. Also, the county is looking at possible uses for Honeygo Park, a largely undeveloped 185-acre tract in Perry Hall.

And, Mr. Weber said, the county is exploring partnerships with private enterprises to provide regional recreational attractions in the White Marsh area. For example, Dorsey Butterbaugh, a past president of the Baltimore Figure Skating Club, has formed a group that is exploring the idea of building an indoor rink -- perhaps convertible for indoor soccer -- at White Marsh Town Center or Honeygo Park.

"One of the sales pitches to Baltimore County is that there are thousands of dollars a week leaving Baltimore County to do indoor activities, be it hockey, figure skating or indoor soccer," Mr. Butterbaugh says.

White Marsh may get its indoor soccer arena at an 80,000-square-foot building on Allender Road. Used for decades assemble modular buildings, the structure would become Freestate Indoor Sports if Jerry Novak has his way.

Mr. Novak, who coaches youth soccer and operates Baltimore County Gymnastics, a nonprofit organization that tutors Middle River youngsters, says the former Coastal Modular Manufacturing factory can be renovated for $200,000.

Concerns about recreation in the area go beyond team sports. In Nottingham, a 40-year-old neighborhood in the back yard of White Marsh Town Center, a community leader asks why developers can't set aside land for bicycle trails or other forms of fun.

"Have they put in recreation for the community?" asked Marie Q. Simoes, who heads the Nottingham Improvement Association.

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