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A Tight Situation

Scotland asks for renovation or reconstruction to get a community center with more space.

On one side of the Scotland Community Center ’s multi-purpose room were children filling their plates with slices of pizza, talking and giggling with one another. On the other side was Jeff Bourne, speaking at the top of his voice to be heard above the chatter of the children as he was attempting to speak to an audience that was seated in the middle of the room. Finally, he’d had enough.

“Is there something we can do to have the kids go into another room?” Bourne asked.

His frustration crystallized what is widely seen as the trouble with the Scotland Community Center : too many users, not enough space.

To Ward Wilson, a lifelong Scotland resident, the scene that frustrated Bourne was nothing new.

“Say there’s a homework club in here in the afternoon,” said Wilson, citing an example of the center’s limited capacity. “The homework club shuts down the center. You come home and you say, ‘Well, from four to six I can’t go to the center.’”

Wilson was one of about 60 people who attended a meeting at the Scotland Community Center on Friday, May 11 to discuss the future of the center with county officials. Much of the crowd was affiliated with Action in Montgomery (AIM), a faith-based, non-partisan community activism group that is working with historically black communities in the county to obtain funding for renovations to their community centers.

Friday’s meeting was intended to get the Scotland community’s input about what they would like to see in either a renovated Scotland Community Center or an entirely new center. Both options — renovation and rebuilding — are currently under consideration by a team of architects and engineers that are assessing all five of the county’s neighborhood centers, said Jeff Bourne, the division chief of county’s Department of Recreation. The Scotland Community Center was designed to serve just the neighborhood of Scotland, classifying it as a neighborhood center, Bourne said. Larger community centers such as the Potomac Community center are Regional Community Centers. A full report on the state of Scotland's center from the group of architects and engineers will be presented to the community in about a month, Bourne said.

“The improvement of the Scotland Community Center has been one of our priorities for years,” Bourne said. “To see the start of the process as we get your input … is really exciting.”

BOURNE BEGAN a list of improvements that those in attendance wished to see, jotting down suggestions on an easel in the front of the room.

More space, more meeting rooms, additional parking, a full-size gymnasium and a larger kitchen topped the list of physical improvements that are needed. Suggestions for programs that the center needs included job training, SAT prep, a summer camp and YMCA programs, among others.

The gymnasium, which is not full-sized and has no capacity for spectators, has reached its designed life span and is ready to be replaced, Bourne said, confirming what many in the audience expressed.

Exactly how the center could be physically improved is uncertain. The architects and engineers that are evaluating each center under consideration have concluded that substantial renovations in Scotland could be difficult because of the way the building was constructed and the site of the center, Bourne said. The site is wedged between residential homes, a parking lot and Cabin John Regional Park .

One solution suggested from the audience was a partnership with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to get some of the parkland behind the community center to build on.

Much of Cabin John Park used to be part of Scotland but was purchased by MNCPPC in the 1950s from Scotland residents, many of whom then moved away from the neighborhood.

“It almost seems like they owe it to the community if you look back historically,” said Patricia Goldberg, a counselor at Bells Mill Elementary School, the home school for the children of Scotland.

THE SCOTLAND COMMUNITY CENTER is one of eight county centers that is fighting to be included for renovation or rebuilding in the next County Improvement Program (CIP) that County Executive Ike Leggett will draft and propose to the County Council in January 2008. The CIP budgets money for county building projects for a five-year span; the CIP that Leggett will propose to the Council will cover 2009-2014.

The other county centers being considered for inclusion in the CIP for either renovation or rebuilding are Ross Body, Plum Gar, Good Hope, Bauer Drive, Upper County, Schweinhaut and Clara Barton.

A meeting similar to the one held in Scotland was held at the Clara Barton Community Center on Thursday, May 10 to get public input about that center’s needs.

Ward said that he was skeptical that Scotland would be included in the next CIP because he has heard the talk about fixing the community center before and nothing has come of it.

“It sounds good, but we’ve heard it before,” Ward said. “We’ve been hearing this for years, but nothing ever happens. … We’re always at the bottom of the totem pole,” Wilson said.

Bette Thompson, a long-time resident and a member of the Scotland center's board, said that the assistance of the AIM partnership is an important part of the process.

“They’re not from Scotland, but they’re for Scotland,” Thompson said.

Ward said that he hopes that the help of outsiders will yield the results that the Scotland Community has sought for years.

“Hopefully this go ‘round will be different,” Wilson said.