For the first time Emma McDaniel can remember, tiny Hobart Community Park is teeming with activity. And she’s not happy about it.
The park is a couple of doors down from the 69-year-old retiree’s Pleasant Plains home. Its eight wooden benches have peeling red paint; the children’s slide is covered in graffiti. Its lone garbage receptacle overflows beneath one of three shade trees. Trash litters the cracks between each panel of rubber playground tile, telling the tale of those who most recently gathered there.
McDaniel says that around noon every day, the teenagers emerge. They gather at the park and stay until the wee hours of the morning. One of their favorite pastimes, she says, is to pry bricks off the wall with a crowbar and hurl them into the street.
“Sometimes they’re out here until 1 o’clock in the morning,” she says.
McDaniel says that the Banneker Recreation Center—just a short walk up nearby Georgia Avenue—has given kids in the neighborhood something to do in the past. But since last summer, the Department of Parks and Recreation has kept the center—which includes a swimming pool—closed for repairs, and it has yet to open. It’s especially needed right now, during the daytime summer hours when kids left unsupervised get into the most trouble.
“We need Banneker open; the kids need something to do,” McDaniel says. “They’re just bored.”
The problem, according to Parks and Rec spokesperson Regina Williams, is that the whole project has been held up because of a couple of wheelchair ramps for the building. That work has compounded the problem, requiring the city to close the facility’s pool—its only functioning part—while work was completed. “The contractor was concerned with residents compromising the construction area even though barriers were placed,” Williams writes in an e-mail.
Williams says that the ramps are complete, but they still need to be approved by city building inspectors. Her latest opening date is July 21 though she’s hopeful the recreation center will be open a week early.
Darren Jones, president of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association, says that this is the worst possible time for the recreation center to be closed. The only other center nearby is the Kennedy Recreation Center, way down 7th Street in Shaw—and Kennedy has no pool. And as for the closing, Banneker was originally shut down to install new windows, new floors, and fix an old air-conditioning system—repairs slated to be finished by October 2006. At this point, the center has been closed for more than a year.
The finish date continues to be pushed back; after Parks and Rec missed its October deadline, it promised the center’s completion for this May. “It went on and on and on,” Jones says. “They showed us the renovations on May 18 and promised an opening in 30 to 40 days.”
This past Monday, workers repairing a chain-link fence in front of the center were the only signs of life: The front door facing Georgia Avenue was still covered with wooden boards. The pool, however, has reopened.
Jones says two weeks ago, the recreation center was scheduled to have registration for the annual summer camp. Several parents took their kids in that morning to enroll, but the place was closed.
Williams says that her agency’s staff called parents and let them know the camp would not be opening and arranged to have them bused to nearby Harrison Recreation Center. But Jones says that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until a couple of days after the camp was scheduled to open that kids were sent to Harrison.
“These parents had to make other arrangements,” Jones says. “[Neighborhood parents] are having friends take care of their kids…but [the kids] don’t really have much activity. It’s been very frustrating to those of us who live in the community, who’ve used the recreation center for many years, and whose kids need some type of recreational activity.”
The most frustrating thing, says Jones, is that the center seemed ready for business when he toured it back in May.
“It looks pretty good, from what I’ve seen,” he says. “It’s just not open.”