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Collins, Henriquez file budget amendment to fund community centers

Posted by Cara Bayles  April 20, 2011 01:09 PM

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State representatives Nick Collins and Carlos Henriquez have proposed a $243,000 line item to the state budget to provide funding for the Tynan Center in South Boston and the Mason Pool in Roxbury, after Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced last week that his 2012 budget would cut staff at the community centers.

The centers are among five (the others are the Harborside in East Boston, Kent in Charlestown, and Orchard Gardens in Roxbury) that would see their staffs eliminated. In those facilities, the city would seek private institutions or nonprofits to run programs, as it did last year for the Walsh Gym, which is now operated by the Gavin Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes for the most part in addiction-recovery services.

Collins, who attended the Tynan's after-school programs and trained to be a lifeguard at the Mason Pool during his youth, said he and Henriquez hope the money will guarantee the centers stay open for the summer. Collins' hometown of South Boston once boasted four city-run community centers. Now, the neighborhood will be down to two.

"This is a priority for us and the residents we represent," he said. "In South Boston, we feel we're revisiting the battle we fought last summer with the Walsh Center."

The upheaval at Orchard Gardens and the Mason in Roxbury has also raised concerns that teenagers would have to cross gang turfs to access resources. Henriquez said that there are tensions between teens from Orchard Gardens and teens from the Dudley Street area.

"Different agencies -- Orchard Gardens, Vine Street, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative -- have worked to de-escalate these feuds, but we know that they still exist," Henriquez said. "Teens might have to decide whether they are going to do their activity and put themselves at risk, or skip out on that activity."

Sandy Holden, spokeswoman for the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, said the Menino administration's program was one of "consolidation," and that they'd picked institutions that were located near other city-operated centers.

"This decision isn't just budgetary. It's an effort to bring our department to the right scale," she said. "If we're able to pull out of these facilities that don't offer many center-run programs anyway, and our city staff are able to work at other BCYF facilities and boost program quality and staffing ratios, then that's a good thing."

Henriquez says he has concerns that turning community centers over to private partners would change the way the centers are run, and that there would be a gap in services.

He said he's keeping an eye on progress with Wheelock College's takeover of the Mattahunt Community Center in Mattapan. But, he added, "If this is something that can be done seamlessly, and the center can be run at least at the capacity it has been running, then I think there are some positivity to that."

Holden said the city will not need to find a private partner for the Tynan, since the elementary school there can ensure the space is open for community meetings and sports leagues. Students seeking after-school programs will go to the Condon Community Center, which is about a mile away. She added that if a private partner expresses interest in the Tynan, the city would be happy to work with them, but that finding a nonprofit to run that center was not a priority.

The Mason had been selected to lose funding because its user numbers were extremely low during the school year. But Holden said that the pool will most likely be kept open for the summer, even though the fiscal year ends in July.

Last year, the city kept the Johnson Center in Mission Hill staffed through December to ensure there was no gap in service before its private partner took over, according to Holden.

"I'd say we will make every effort to keep our staff in place until a private partner is ready to take over," she said of the Mason.

Eneida Tavares, the mother of two children who attend the Mason School, learned of the budget cuts from her children's swimming instructor. Her 5-year-old son has a joint condition, and the pool serves as both an activity and physical therapy for him. Even if the pool is kept open for the summer, she worried about what a gap in service would mean for Mason students.

"The school doesn't have a gym," Tavares said. "To take the pool away from the kids would really be stealing something from them. … They play out in the hallway in the wintertime."

The fate of Collins and Henriquez's budget amendment will be decided next week, when the House votes on the state's $30.45 billion 2012 budget.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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