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Popular park to have a bigger perk

A new community center for Kate Jackson Park will double the size of the old one and resemble a house.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 19, 2002


Three years ago, residents raised thousands of dollars to transform Kate Jackson Park into a neighborhood gem, with lush gardens and a fancy fountain.

Now it's the city's turn to finish the job.

Tampa's Recreation Department has set aside about $900,000 to build a new community center at the park, on Rome Avenue near Old Hyde Park Village. It will replace the aging facility built in the mid 1970s.

"It's served its time," said manager Pat Fowler. "As Hyde Park has changed, so have the demands for recreation."

The new, one-story center will look like a house from the outside and have a porch along the front with chairs and game tables. It will boast 8,000 square feet, nearly double that of the existing one.

"It will blend in with the neighborhood," said Gary Hunnicutt, head of staffing and programming at recreation centers in South Tampa. "The (old) building was adequate to some degree, but it needed to be more in line with the community."

Construction is expected to start in the next month and last through the end of the year. A ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for May 14.

During construction, the Kate Jackson center will operate out of two temporary trailers to be set up at the Hyde Park Craft Shop-Playground next to the Kash N' Karry at Swann and Albany avenues. The move should happen in the next few weeks, with demolition on the old center to follow.

The trailers will house the after-school and summer school programs. Most of the other classes have found temporary homes. Few people have complained, Fowler said.

The new facility will have space for six programs at a time, up from three. Depending on what the community wants, organizers will expand the offerings. Among the possibilities: foreign language courses for leisure and business travelers, and more computer classes.

The center is among the city's most used. Classes range from cheerleading and crafts to tae kwon do and quilting. Community groups also rent it out for meetings and social events.

Over the years, the clientele has changed from mostly senior citizens to a mix of people young and old, said Fowler, who has worked at the center for 14 years. Many are young families who live in Hyde Park.

The city originally planned to upgrade the building, but officials determined it was not feasible. The roof leaks, weeds grow up through the walls and electrical fuses regularly blow. The layout also forces people to walk through the main room to get to other rooms, interrupting activities.

Money for the center came from a 1999 bond issue to finance $35- to $40-million in city projects for recreation centers, public parking garages and fire stations.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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