Children play at the Browns Mill Aquatic Center in Stonecrest, which the city plans to take over later this year.
Photo: Renee' Hannans Henry/AJC
Photo: Renee' Hannans Henry/AJC

Summer camp contract canceled due to quick turnover, resident concerns

Turns out DeKalb County will manage a popular summer camp in Stonecrest this year after all. In a sudden reversal, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta withdrew its plan to contract with the city to manage a day camp at Browns Mill Recreation Center.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said both the city and the Boys and Girls Clubs wanted more time before the organization took over the summer camp from DeKalb County, amid residents’ concerns that the city had rushed into the process and could leave the park’s current staff members without jobs.

DeKalb County has historically run the parks and the summer camp, but Stonecrest voted last month to pay the county $42,000 for nine parks and one aquatic center, including Browns Mill, a move that is required under the city’s charter. The Council also approved an $83,500 contract with the Boys and Girls Club to run the summer camp for about 100 children.

» RELATED: Concerns over transparency as DeKalb city starts taking over parks

That plan changed several days later.

“The BGCMA believes our citizens will be better served with continued service from DeKalb County during this summer’s transition to a city-run parks system,” Stonecrest parks director Sean DePalma wrote in an April 29 email to the mayor and City Council that was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Boys and Girls Clubs also cited a concern that the tight time frame for the camp’s turnover would have an “adverse effect” on the programming, DePalma wrote.

The following day, DePalma wrote that the county would keep the building and run the summer camp this year. Stonecrest could instead take over the Browns Mill Recreation Center and Aquatic Center later this year, DePalma said.

In a statement, the Boys and Girls Clubs said it would need at least 30 days to hire and train their staff, set up the building and plan programs. The camp would begin in early June.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said he talked to parents and Browns Mill Recreation Center staff members.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“We are interested in exploring a partnership for the fall in which we have more time to plan, prepare, and get to know the community,” Michael Armstrong, the vice president of club operations and evaluation for the organization, said in the statement.

Stonecrest officials previously heralded the Boys and Girls Club contract, and said its camp programming would be sufficient and similar to what DeKalb has offered. But some residents said the city failed to seek enough public input before choosing the Boys and Girls Clubs to operate camps at the center.

“There was no attempt to do any outreach” or get parents’ input, resident Dele Lowman Smith, the president of the Stonecrest Citizens’ Coalition, previously told the AJC. “We wanted to see more responsibly taken for needing to engage citizens.”

The switch was in part due to concerns from neighbors who were worried that the quick turnover could affect the employment of DeKalb staff members who worked at Browns Mill for years, Lary said.

“Let’s ease this transition,” Lary said after Tuesday night’s state of the city address. “And take care of these employees at the same time. … These people really wanted these folks to stay.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs did not specifically say whether the residents’ staffing concerns played a part in their decision.

DeKalb County said in a statement it would work with city officials to “to ensure a smooth transition as they plan to take over the center’s ownership and operations.”

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In other news:

Crews have blocked part of the road between Glenrose Drive and Midvale Road.

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