In a move that changes the focus of recreation center programs for Baltimore's youth and elderly, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is handing over control of at least 10 recreation centers to city police officers this fall.
The Oct. 1 changeover, to be announced today by Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, provoked parents and employees to question its effect in neighborhoods.
"I think it is one of the worst mistakes they can possibly make," said Tyrone Jordan, a volunteer at Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center in West Baltimore, which is to become a Police Athletic League (PAL) center. "Kids don't deal with police officers as well as the people that they have been around the last 10 or 12 yearsand that they respect."
Yesterday, some of the directors and staff of the 10 recreation centers were notified about the changes. Few were told whether they would keep their jobs.
"I don't know whether I will be employed after Oct. 1 or not," said William Sullivan, director of Fort Worthington Recreation Center in East Baltimore. "I have to stand in front of my employees with a blank face and tell them I don't know what will happen to them."
A police spokeswoman said yesterday that Frazier was unavailable for comment. She declined comment, as well.
Annette Stenhouse, spokeswoman for the Recreation and Parks Department, said yesterday that both agencies are "working cooperatively to continue football programs and senior and child care programs."
Traditionally, the city's 25 PALs have focused on the needs of 7-to-17-year-olds and excluded senior and some league sports programs. Schmoke also said he been exploring plans to privatize popular soccer and roller-skating facilities, and the YMCA and Salvation Army have expressed interest in taking over some centers.
For months, Schmoke has said the city could not afford to keep running its recreation centers and embarked on a plan to transfer management to PALs, which are funded by federal and private sources. The majority of the recreation department's funds come from city coffers.
"It is likely we will get through the year without closing any recreation centers," Schmoke said.
Baltimore has 58 recreation centers. Schmoke said this summer that unless several centers were transferred to private management or PALs, some would have to close.
But some city residents balked at the idea of turning over recreation centers to PALs.
Sandra McDonald, whose daughter spends the summer at Solo Gibbs Recreation Center, which is also slated to become a PAL, does not think that police officers have the proper credentials.
"They are trained to be police officers, to catch criminals, not teach our children," McDonald said.
City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon of West Baltimore said yesterday she was annoyed she was not notified by the mayor that four centers in her district were affected. "We asked to be kept informed," she said. "I wonder why those? What criteria did they use?"
But advocates of PAL centers said the police department can do a better job because it has more money, for better equipment, than the recreation department has.
Some city recreation centers could use an extensive overhaul. Youngsters play in dusty, drafty buildings with broken baseball bats and flattened basketballs.
For months, the recreation department has been in flux, which is sure to leave the agency smaller and less influential.
The department lost $5.4 million in the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Schmoke also has dismantled the department's construction division, transferred a handful of administrators and laid off several others in the first steps of the overhaul.
Also, Marlyn J. Perritt abruptly resigned in June after a mayoral task force lambasted her stewardship. Just before her departure, she and Frazier had been at odds because she opposed PALs taking over more of the centers.
These recreation centers are slated to become Police Athletic Leagues:
Brooklyn Recreation Center, 3560 Third St.;
Carroll Park Recreation Center, 800 Bayard St.;
Central Rosemont Recreation Center, 2621 Winchester St.;
Fort Worthington Recreation Center, Kenwood and Hoffman streets;
Hamilton Recreation Center, 3309 Bayonne Ave.;
Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center, 1310 N. Stricker St.;
Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave.;
Solo Gibbs Recreation Center, 1044 Leadenhall St.;
Towanda Recreation Center, 4100 Towanda Ave.;
Webster M. Kendricks Recreation Center, 4130 Callaway Ave.
Pub Date: 8/07/97