City’s Har­lem Park rec cen­ter re­opens

Facility in West Bal­ti­more had been closed for seven years

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Catherine Rentz

Seven years af­ter it closed, Har­lem Park Recre­ation Cen­ter has got its game back.

About100 peo­ple at­tended the re­open­ing of the West Bal­ti­more rec cen­ter Tues­day af­ter­noon, in­clud­ing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who wasn’t happy when it closed in 2012 and pushed to get it and oth­ers back in op­er­a­tion.

“If not for rec cen­ters, I would not be here to­day,” Young told a crowd of about100 peo­ple at­tend­ing the grand re­open­ing.

He re­mem­bered when his mom used to send him to rec cen­ters. It was a time when there was a cen­ter ev­ery two to four blocks, he said. Young has long wanted to re­open the cen­ters, which were closed dur­ing a con­sol­i­da­tion un­der then-Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake in 2012.

“I view the Recre­ation and Parks depart­ment as part of the crime fight,” he said.

Among those ex­cited about the re­open­ing was Har­lem Park res­i­dent Shaneka Jones, 34, who had sev­eral young chil­dren in tow look­ing at the new in­door bas­ket­ball hoops and games.

“I first heard about it when I saw Mr. Wylie tak­ing pic­tures of the build­ing,” said Jones, re­fer­ring to the Har­lem Park fu­neral home owner Al Wylie.

Wylie, who dou­bles as the pres­i­dent of the Har­lem Park Neigh­bor­hood Coun­cil, told her the city would be re­open­ing the rec cen­ter.

“I told him thank you, be­cause they re­ally need some­thing to do,” she said of her chil­dren.

West Bal­ti­more res­i­dents liv­ing in the 21217 ZIP code, which in­cludes Har­lem Park, have ex­pe­ri­enced a vi­o­lence that is un­fath­omable to most U.S. res­i­dents. More than 345 peo­ple have been shot and in­jured, and an ad­di­tional 179 peo­ple have been killed there since 2015, when vi­o­lence in Bal­ti­more be­gan to es­ca­late af­ter the death of Freddie Gray from in­juries suf­fered while in po­lice cus­tody. The vic­tims have in­cluded seven chil­dren.

“The rea­son why I was tak­ing pic­tures is be­cause ev­ery time I heard the news, I heard peo­ple say­ing kids needed some place for peo­ple to go,” Wylie said. “We had a recre­ation cen­ter in Har­lem Park that was closed.”

So Wylie took pic­tures of the closed cen­ter and sent them to City Coun­cil mem­ber John T. Bul­lock and Bal­ti­more City Recre­ation and Parks Di­rec­tor Regi­nald Moore, and called the mayor’s of­fice.

All were on board. But there was the fund­ing prob­lem. At the same time, Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter Pres­i­dent Mo­han Sun­tha was look­ing at how to help the com­mu­nity. He part­nered with the city to re­fur­bish the recre­ation cen­ter with new light­ing, books, games and sports equip­ment and an up­graded mul­tipur­pose room.

Sun­tha ex­plained at the open­ing that in­vest­ing in the health of a com­mu­nity isn’t just about what hap­pens in­side the walls of the hos­pi­tals — like treat­ing pain, gun­shot wounds and ill­ness — it’s about preven­tion.

“The re­al­ity is these kinds of in­vest­ments pay off gen­er­a­tionally,” he said. “They don’t pay off in a quar­ter or in a fis­cal year. They pay off in a gen­er­a­tion.”

ULYSSES MUÑOZ/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Monique Ghee, right, works on a STEM ac­tiv­ity with De’Auri Knight, 7, left, and Erica Davis, 5, at the Har­lem Park Recre­ation Cen­ter, which re­opened Tues­day in Bal­ti­more.

Chil­dren work on an en­gi­neer­ing project at the recre­ation cen­ter Tues­day.

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