Wheaton Rec Center debate goes back 17 years -- Gazette.Net


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I would like to illuminate the issue of designating the Wheaton Recreation Center from a different point of view as someone who has lived in the community for over 20 years and has followed its trajectory for 17 years.

In 1997 the Recreation Strategic Facility Plan 1997-2010 called for replacing the existing facility with a larger full service center to serve the Wheaton/Kemp Mill communities. As part of this process our community proposed ideas to renovate the present building. The county did nothing.

By 2002 the Rec Center was in dire need of repair. The county proposed demolishing the building and moving the Wheaton Rescue Squad there. Again, we would have welcomed a renovated and expanded building. But again, nothing was done.

Over the last 17 years we have heard nothing from the Maryland Historical Trust (who lobbied to give the building historic designation) or the county planning board (who sided with the trust). Over the years we would have welcomed their help to upgrade the building. Again, nothing.

And, over these years plans for the Wheaton Library (which sits adjacent to the Rec Center) and the Rec Center came and went (to see a full timeline of this project go to savewheatonlibrary.com). This delay is a travesty for our neighborhoods. Children today are using a building that is falling apart.

Two years ago the county approved the budget for the new joint facility without any opposition. The Maryland Historic Trust nor any other organization or individual ever brought up the future historic value of the Wheaton Rec Center.

Now the county has designed plans to integrate the library and Rec Center properties in a well-planned project that will both upgrade the facilities to be of good use to the community and be on par with other sites throughout the county. The vast majority of people have voiced their approval of these plans and resistance to any further delays. Seventeen years is enough of a delay.

George French and Marcie Stickle say it’s important to save older buildings as part of our heritage. I don’t disagree with that sentiment. However, if they and the Historic Trust felt that way, where have they been all these years?

The only award this “award-winning” building received was for good use of cheap materials. And, we can see now just how that has worked out. The building is falling apart and it will now take $7-$8 million to fix. That’s money the county doesn’t have.

It will also cut the contiguous open space on the properties making it impossible, as stated by the county’s Recreation Department, to conduct outside activities as they do in other county recreation centers. The Recreation Department has stated it will not move young children to Wheaton Regional Park for those activities. It will simply not conduct any after-school outdoor activities nor summer camps in our community. The community wants a recreation center on par with those in other parts of the county.

Despite French’s and Stickle’s belief that “we can have it all” — both keep the present Rec Center and upgrade the facilities — in meetings we have had with county agencies we have learned we cannot have it all. The size of the properties limits usage.

There won’t be enough contiguous outdoor space to conduct the types of activities the Recreation Department does elsewhere. The cost is now too high, both monetarily and for the residents of the community.

Where was the Historic Trust when we needed them? Their interest is too little and way too late.

Jeff Gates, Wheaton