Published on: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

That’s what friends are for

By Rick Henry

Upon visiting the Takoma Park Recreation Center on New Hampshire Avenue a couple of years ago, Priscilla Labovitz decided to exercise more than her body; she decided to exercise her organizing abilities.

“I saw it (the Center) for the first time when I went to take a Pilates class there, and I couldn’t believe how poor the facilities were, especially compared to the Community Center (on Maple Avenue),” she said. “I thought this inequity needed fixing, so I decided to do something.”

She joined the City’s Recreation Committee and researched information about the center and its administration. But the main result of Labovitz’s effort was the formulation of the Friends of the Takoma Park Recreation Center, a group dedicated to improving, advocating and developing programming for the center. The group held its initial meeting on Oct. 5, and Labovitz said approximately 25 people attended, including numerous youths from the community around the Rec Center, who came with enthusiasm and ideas for the facility.

“I was thrilled at the turnout and enthusiasm and the many ideas that members of the community had,” Labovitz said. “They have clearly been thinking about this and are ready to move.”

Those who attended the meeting are not the only ones who have been thinking about the Rec Center. Gregory Clark, director of recreation for the City, said that the New Hampshire Avenue facility is an important issue.

He said the City has completed two recreation studies in the past year, one to determine what type of programming and amenities residents would like to see for the facility and the other to determine the feasibility of acquiring the property, which is owned by the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), or building a new facility on other existing property owned by the city.

According to Clark, MNCPPC owns the facility and leases it to Montgomery County, which then tasks the City with providing programming. “The first thing the City needs to do is to figure out whether to acquire the property,” he said. “If we don’t do that, there are limitations to what we can do because we don’t own the building,” Clark said.

Clark said that the results of the survey findings and a discussion about future steps for recreation in the City are on the agenda for the next City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 16, which will be held at the Recreation Center. No matter what the council decides, Clark says he welcomes the opportunity to work with the Friends.

“We (the City) have a lot of desire to improve that facility and better serve the residents, especially in that ward, and working with the Friends and the Recreation Committee will only improve whatever situation we have,” he said.

Takoma Park Recreation Supervisor Vince Cain, who is in charge of the facility, agrees. Cain attended the initial Friends meeting on Oct. 5 and came away impressed and energized. Given that the facility serves a lot of youth from the immediate area, he was especially pleased so many attended the event and provided input. “There were a lot of good ideas, especially from the kids in the community, focusing on new programming,” he said.

He said believes the work of the Friends and other recreation advocates will allow the New Hampshire Center to build on the programs that are already in place and “enhance the fitness and wellness of the residents of Takoma Park.”

“It’s always good to have extra resources and advocates,” he said, especially those like Labovitz.

This article appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.