Basketball is the common thread that runs through Springhill Lake Recreation Center in Greenbelt, center director Frank Jones says.
In the gym, youth ages 16 to early 20s call out to each other for the ball as their sneakers squeak on the wood floor. In the center’s new computer lab, a group of 12 young men ages 8 to 14 shoot virtual hoops in online basketball games using 10 laptops provided by the city.
“Basketball is the thing that they can all relate to,” Jones said of the center’s visitors, mostly African-American men and those from the neighboring Franklin Park Apartments.
The computers were part of a $175,000 renovation at Springhill Lake Recreation Center that started about a year ago and was completed in May, said David Moran, assistant city manager. Most of the funding — $145,000 — came from federal government Community Development Block Grants, which are annual awards granted based on a formula by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. City funds provided the other $30,000.
The renovation, which also included a new heating and cooling system, and updates to bathrooms, flooring, lighting fixtures, siding and painting throughout the building, was much needed on the 37-year-old building, Moran said, and gave the city a chance to add the computer lab.
In a city divided by major highways into clusters of communities, most of the city’s public facilities — including the library, the Aquatic and Fitness Center and the municipal building — are located in the historic section of Greenbelt, separated from the Springhill Lake area by two miles and the Capital Beltway and Kenilworth Avenue, which makes access difficult for children without transportation.
The city facilities were designed to be central, Moran said, but when other communities were developed outside of the historic neighborhood — built in the 1930s as a planned community for low-income workers — the city tried to keep up with the sprawl, building Springhill Lake Recreation Center in 1975. The renovations during the past year constitute the building’s first major overhaul, although smaller fixes have been made in the past, such as replacing the gym floor, Moran said. A second phase of renovations — for about the same amount — is planned, including replacing the roof and windows in the gym, and the city is in the process of applying for funding. Moran said the department should know within three months how much funding the city will get from the federal government.
Jones said the investment in Springhill Lake is encouraging to the people who live and work outside of the city’s historic center.
“As a recreation department we’re trying to break the division [between old Greenbelt and Franklin Park],” Jones said. “I think it shows kids here that you’re not alone, that people care about you on ‘this side.’”
Jones said he would like to see the center’s younger visitors using the computers for more than just games and social media like Facebook, but for now he is just monitoring through sign-in sheets and observation who uses the lab and how, so he and other Greenbelt recreation department employees can come up with effective programming. In June, the lab had 268 visits — the vast majority from those 17 and younger — and chairs at the computers almost always are full, Jones said.
“When school was in session, kids were using them for research and homework,” said Greg Varda, recreation supervisor for Greenbelt’s recreation department.
In August, Varda said the lab will host workshops in job searching, and Microsoft programs Excel, Word and PowerPoint.
Once school starts again, Jones said, he also hopes to use the lab for homework help or tutoring.
“We’re not quite sure where we’re going to take [the computer lab,] so right now we’re trying a little bit of everything to see what works,” Jones said. “My goal is to be able to get people the resources they need.”
Of the 10 young men in the lab July 12, Barly Kanu, 13, was the only one who said he has a computer at home. But he appreciates the more social aspects of the center’s lab.
“It’s a good way to play with friends, [because] we’re all here together,” Barly said.