Towson Y has what this recreation council needs
Property sale could meet need for more playing fields
By Loni Ingraham
The 990 volunteers who serve the Towsontowne Recreation Council are keeping their collective fingers crossed when it comes to the county buying land from the Towson Family Center Y.
A critical space shortage is the reason.
The council is in desperate need of playing fields and activity space, according to Bob McClelland, the county Department of Recreation and Parks employee who serves as community supervisor for the Towsontowne area. Towsontowne hasn’t had enough space since he took the job seven years ago, McClelland said. If the county and the Y reach an agreement, the county will buy four to five acres of the Y’s 17-acre tract and convert it into fields that the Towsontowne rec council can use. The Y will use the money to replace its current buildings with a new facility featuring a gymnasium that the rec council will be able to use for its basketball programs. “It certainly will help,” said McClelland, who is responsible for the area roughly bordered by Burke Avenue, the Beltway and Providence and Ruxton roads. Towsontowne offers 50 recreational and athletic programs — everything from baseball, football, soccer and lacrosse to art and karate — and typically draws 5,000 registrations a year. The 990 volunteers put in 15,000 hours to make it all possible. “The department of dec and parks is doing the best they can, working proactively to secure additional space,” McClelland said, "but it’s a very difficult challenge. "Meanwhile, Towsontowne is prevented from starting new programs or expanding others because there is no place to put them, he said. The rec council already is renting space from private schools and jockeying for space at Meadowood Regional Park at Falls Road and Greenspring Valley Road with other space-starved recreation councils. The demand for programs is almost endless, he said, but there’s no space. It’s not going to get better any time soon. Although the Department of Recreation and Parks shares school properties with the school system, “we are second-priority users,” McClelland said. Construction of the new Towson West Elementary School next to the Ridge Ruxton School on North Charles Street will put two ball diamonds and a lacrosse field for tykes out of commission next spring. And construction on the replacement of the Carver Center for Arts and Technology next to the existing school will put four ball diamonds and three multipurpose fields out of commission next fall. It could be four or five years before the new school is completed, the old school is demolished and the fields restored, McClelland said. If a high school team wants to practice on a Saturday or if a principal decides to increase parental involvement with extra-curricular activities, the rec council has to step back, he said. “It’s a very hard thing for a volunteer to look a parent in the eyes and say, ‘We just can’t help you,’” he said, noting it is ironic that the rec council and the school system are competing to serve the same population.
Partnership key to land sale
By Loni Ingraham
Baltimore County and the Y of Central Maryland are hammering out an agreement that will facilitate the construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility for the Towson Family Center Y and allow it to remain in place at 600 W. Chesapeake Ave. The details haven’t been worked out, said Bob Barrett, director of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, but the tentative agreement is “a win-win for everybody involved.” John Hoey, CEO of the Y of Central Maryland, agreed. “It’s obviously not a final deal yet — it’s subject to County Council approval, but we are looking at a very exciting partnership,” Hoey said. The county would buy four to five acres of the Towson Y’s 17-acre tract, according to the agreement, and develop them into badly needed playing fields and parking for Towson Recreation Council programs. The Towson Y, which has 5,000 family and individual memberships, would use the proceeds to jump-start a capital campaign to finance construction of a modern building on the site to replace its existing, antiquated structures. The Y would remain in operation in the existing buildings during the construction process. When the new facility is ready, the Y would move in and raze its old home. The bonus win for county’s recreation and parks programs would be that the Towson Recreation Council, which Barrett said is “in desperate need of basketball space,” would share use of the new building’s gymnasium with the Y. The deal could be struck in less than a week, Barrett said Oct. 7. “I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed,” he said, adding that his eyes already are crossed from working since January to put the deal together. The Y’s need for a new facility became public knowledge last January, when a CB Richard Ellis real estate listing noted the Y of Central Maryland was interested in selling some or all of the 17-acre property. There was no question the Towson Y needed to be replaced, said Hoey, and no question the Towson Y wanted to remain where it was. But it would take $12 million just to begin construction. The Y was in a bind. Its biggest asset was the residentially zoned, prime real estate on which it is located, he said, noting he had received 12 bids from developers offering from $5 million to $10 million for the entire property. At the time, Hoey envisioned a 50,000- to 55,000-square-foot, two-level “green” facility that could feature a modern pool, a therapy pool, a 10,000-square-foot fitness area, a basketball court and a child-care area, that could cost as much as $16 million. He now has revised those figures to 45,000 square feet and possibly $12 million “after learning how to be cost efficient with our design,” he said. “We’re trying to build as modern as possible and keep the cost down.” The cost of demolition will be the unknown factor, he added. Community asset. The prospect of the Y selling out and moving elsewhere has been upsetting for the neighborhood, and not just because it would mean the loss of a neighborhood asset, said Mike Ertel, president of the West Towson Improvement Association. Many residents were fearful that a new development would disturb the ambience of an area for which people pay top dollar for houses and would generate more traffic congestion, further overcrowd schools and create stormwater runoff problems. “Anything but housing,” Allegheny Avenue resident Beverly Pugsley said Oct. 8 when she learned of the pending deal with the county that would eliminate that prospect — though she did have some concerns about what is going to go where on the Y property. “We don’t know yet,” Hoey said, “but we are going to try to preserve as much green space as we can.” “It’s all still very much up in the air,” said Towson Y board member John Holman, chairman of the committee that will handle the capital campaign. Holman’s very excited about the potential sale to the county and the possibilities it presents, he said, but he also said that raising the money could take a year or longer. West Towson resident Stephanie Keene, who teaches aerobics part time at the Y and whose 7-year-old son, Brendan, has been involved in both Y and Towsontown Rec Council activities, wants the Y to remain in its present location. She’s “looking forward to new equipment and new floors” and “not having to drive all over God’s creation” to get Brendan to games. Meanwhile, Barrett said that it would take less than a year after the sale is consummated to have the new fields ready. “Our portion can be done pretty quickly,” he said. Hoey praised Barrett and County Executive Jim Smith. “They really wanted to make this happen,” he said. The Y will hold a public meeting when and if the deal is finalized, Hoey said.over 4 years ago