City's Park Heights rec center handed to nonprofit group

City officials awarded control of a Park Heights recreation center to a nonprofit group Wednesday as part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's plan to overhaul the recreation system by handing some centers to third parties.

Park Heights Renaissance Inc. will take over operations of the Towanda rec center, which has been closed for repairs since September, when it was flooded by Hurricane Irene.

Julio Colon, Park Heights Renaissance's executive director, said his group would run after-school programs, evening sports, and intergenerational mentoring and tutoring sessions at the center. Safe Streets, a nonprofit group that encourages peaceful conflict resolution, would also run programs from the center, Colon said.

City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton praised Colon for seeking input from residents regarding the types of programs they wanted to see at the center.

"He got positive reviews from the community," Middleton said.

The center is the fifth that the city has turned over to a private group under Rawlings-Blake's plan to overhaul the city's 55 rec centers by streamlining funding.

Under the mayor's plan, three new centers are being built and one is undergoing renovation and expansion. Twenty-seven other centers are being renovated and adding staffing, programming and hours.

The school system will take over operations at six centers attached to schools and the quasi-public Family League is slated to take over 10 centers.

Four centers, all in West Baltimore, are scheduled to close when summer programs end in August.

The Board of Estimates approved the handover of the Towanda center Wednesday morning. Rawlings-Blake abstained from the vote, but the other four members voted in favor.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who had voted against the transfer of the four previous centers to private groups, voted for the contract. A spokesman explained that Young had feared that the other groups would be unable to sustain operations at the centers indefinitely but had confidence in Park Heights Renaissance.

"He was pretty comfortable and confident that they will be able to offer quality programs," said spokesman Lester Davis.

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