East County gets new recreation center and arts programs

After a long wait, the County broke ground at the Good Hope Neighborhood Recreation Center on December 10, 2016. I was particularly excited to attend the event because the Rec Center is less than a mile from my house and I look forward to using it with my family once it’s open in 2018.

Like any groundbreaking ceremony, there were several local government personalities in attendance, including County Executive Ike Leggett, four Councilmembers (Berliner, Riemer, Hucker, and Floreen), and three County agency directors (Parks, Recreation, and General Services). Quite a show for a relatively small project ($10 million), but there are several good reasons to be excited about this one.

Photo of groundbreaking ceremony. County officials and staff turn dirt with shovels.
Politicians sure love taking photos with shovels! Photo by author.

A brand new facility for a historically black community

First, the new Recreation Center will be a state-of-the-art, modern-looking facility twice the size of the old one. The renderings developed by the architect show a lot of promise. The floor plans show an exercise room, game room, social hall with kitchen, and full-size gymnasium. The arrangement of the building and parking lot will be redesigned to comply with the strict environmental regulations associated with the Upper Paint Branch Special Protection Area, and the building will be LEED Silver Certified.

Rendering of Good Hope Recreation Center
Rendering of Good Hope Recreation Center. Obtained from County website.
Photo of existing Rec Center
The current Recreation Center, slated for demolition. Photo obtained from County website.

Second, as Leggett noted, this new facility will be serving a historically African-American community that was established by freed slaves in the late 19th century. He described how the nearby Good Hope Methodist-Episcopal Church has been a focal point for the community since the 1870s. Leggett also told an anecdote of when he was being pulled over by park police in the Recreation Center parking lot for DWB, and how our society still has a ways to go at addressing racial inequity and discrimination.

Recreation center gets creative

The final unique and exciting aspect of this Recreation Center is that it’s not just a recreation center: the facility will also be a center for music, arts, dance, and theater. The Recreation Department is partnering with Strathmore to provide affordable performing arts programs to East County.

The new Good Hope Recreation Center will be the hub for the Strathmore’s East County Initiative, which was launched in January 2016 in an effort to bring its activities to residents that were less likely to be able to afford or attend events at Strathmore’s main campus in North Bethesda.

Last year, the Strathmore’s ECI helped over 90 students continue their classical music training into middle school and helped several East County schools establish after-school dance classes. The ECI also hosts concerns and choirs throughout East County.

“[We want to] build on the strong tradition of performance in East County. … To create resident programming by and for people who live in the area, to develop what’s already there to a higher level, and to identify what we can do to make the arts more impactful.”

–Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl

Photo of young black female violinist
Strathmore’s East County Strings Program launched in 2016. Photo by Strathmore.

The new facility will be specifically designed to accommodate musical and theatrical performances. David Dise, Director of the Department of General Services, noted that nearly every feature of the building, such as the lighting, seating, materials of construction, and room layout, was designed to allow the facility to seamlessly transition between recreational and arts use. In other words, the gymnasium will be able to transform from a volleyball court into a concert hall.

This is the first time that Montgomery County implements arts, music, and educational programming into a recreation center.

Shout-out for sidewalks

One last thing to note is that during his speech, our local District 5 councilmember Tom Hucker publicly advocated for a sidewalk along Good Hope Road, which would connect my community to the new Recreation Center. I look forward to when it gets built so I can take my children to this facility without relying on a car.

Councilmember Tom Hucker speaks at ceremony
Tom Hucker: “What is this?! A center for student drivers? How can we be expected to teach children to learn to play violin if they can’t even walk to the building?” Photo and poor attempt at satire by author.

What can you do to get involved?

Update: for more information, see the presentations from the community meetings in 2014 and 2015. They show the different site plans alternatives that were under consideration and the proposed playground equipment (including a jet ski!).

Good Hope Rec Center Community Meeting 1.pdf

Good Hope Rec Center Community Meeting 2.pdf

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