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Childcare Company Bids to Run Hampden Rec Center

Little Dimples II was the only group to bid to run the Roosevelt Recreation Center.

Little Dimples II, a private childcare provider, has placed the only bid to run the Roosevelt Recreation Center in Hampden.

Thomas Hardnett, president and chief executive officer of Little Dimples II, said that if the bid is accepted, he intends to reach out to the Hampden community determine what services it needs and provide them at the recreation center.

“It can’t be a community center if the community isn’t involved,” Hardnett said.

Hardnett said having his company, which operates the Phyllis Wheatley Educational Center in East Baltimore, run the is preferable to it closing because the city can no longer afford to operate it.

“We’re in partnership more so with the community than the city,” Hardnett said.

Genny Dill, president of the Roosevelt Recreation Center Council, was not optimistic about Little Dimples II operating the center. The council is a volunteer community group associated with the recreation center. She said she doubted a private company could continue to provide the same breadth of programming and maintain the facility.

"This is the epitome of why the community is worried about the RFP process," Dill said. An RFP is a request for proposal, the process governments often go through when seeking private vendors. 

She also is skeptical of Hardnett's promises to work with the community to provide the best possible community center.

"If he's so concerned about partnering with the community I think he would have spoke to the community before the city," Dill said.

Little Dimples II also submitted bids to operate the Liberty Recreation Center in West Baltimore and Woodhome Recreation Center in Northeast Baltimore.  It was one of seven groups to respond to the city’s overall request for proposal to partner to run a recreation center, and the only group to bid on Roosevelt, Liberty and Woodhome. The city has not yet announced whether the bids have been accepted.

None of the other North Baltimore recreation centers, Medfield Recreation Center, the Barclay Recreation Center, the Walter P. Carter Recreation Center and DeWees Recreation Center received bids to be run by a private organization.

The city has said it only has funds to continue running these centers through the end of 2011. Although the city hasn't said these centers will be closed, it hasn't ruled out the possibility.

Wednesday was the final day groups could submit a proposal to run a recreation center. The Law Department and an evaluation committee will review the proposals and the Board of Estimates must approve any bids to operate a recreation center.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, D-District 7, represents parts of Hampden including the area where the Roosevelt Recreation Center is located. She said that she has concerns generally about private companies being able to provide the services and upkeep needed at recreation centers.

Conaway said Little Dimples II should make it a priority to meet with the Hampden community to discuss what its plans are for the recreation center.

“I would hope they would work with the community because that is a strong recreation center,” Conaway said.  

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, D-District 14, said she wasn’t surprised the city received so few bids from organizations willing to partner to run a recreation center. Clarke has been critical of what the city wanted from organizations that wanted to run a recreation center.

She said the requirements in the city's RFP to run the centers, such as needing $5 million in insurance, prevented community groups such as the Roosevelt Recreation Center Council from raising the necessary money to partner with the city to keep the centers operational.

“I think the city needs to look at meeting the community halfway,” Clarke said.

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said that too many of the centers are understaffed and dilapidated and that continuing in this way won’t address the needs of Baltimore’s residents.

“Right now, the recreation centers we have are not acceptable,” Brennan said. 

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