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Community vision is sought for new center

Two meetings next month will give Dunedin residents more chances to share ideas for the facility at Highlander Park.

Published May 26, 2004

DUNEDIN - They are unsure what the new center will offer.

And they don't know how big it's going to be, or how much money they have to spend.

City officials do know, however, that they want to hear from residents about the new community center that is planned for Highlander Park.

"It's a big project," said Harry Gross, director of leisure services. "We're trying to make sure we do it with public input. Hopefully, it's going to be a facility that will last us well into the future and won't become obsolete on us."

They have a general idea of what they want: more classroom space, some offices, a large multipurpose room. Perhaps a weight room, fitness center, some rooms for dance classes.

Maybe a satellite library where residents can check out and drop off books. Or a gymnasium.

So far, officials have had a few public meetings. And there are a couple of more next month, on June 9 and June 30 at the existing Dunedin Community Center. Gross hopes to present conceptual plans at the meeting June 9. A groundbreaking is anticipated for late 2005.

The new center will replace the existing building, which has served as the community center for more than 30 years.

About 155,000 people use the Dunedin Community Center each year.

"It's an old, old center," said Commissioner Dave Eggers. "Functionally obsolete, inefficient. For every dollar you put in there, you're not going to get a dollar back in value. It's not what we need, not anymore, for our citizens."

Officials had looked into adding on to the 8,000-square-foot center a couple of years ago, but found it was more feasible to build a new center.

According to a survey in which 463 residents responded, it's one of the most important improvements that needs to be made to Highlander Park.

"The community center is where most of our programs take place," Gross said. "It's also the sort of site where many special events are held. It doesn't have the bathroom space and a lot of those types of things that we would like to have for big events and large functions."

The new community center is part of a larger plan for Highlander Park, located between Pinehurst Road and Harvard Avenue.

Preserving green space and improving the swimming pool and art center are also on the list, along with more walking trails and a place for indoor performing arts.

Some residents said in the survey they would like to see a splash park, more playground space, benches and picnic tables and a concession stand.

Commissioners want to make sure, though, that Highlander Park is a carefully calculated project.

So far, they have only approved the new community center. And the consensus was to keep the center in its current location.

"There was a lot of concern that if you try to fit all this in the park, you won't have a park anymore," Commissioner Bob Hackworth said. "Then you would just have a mass of facilities. You've lost green space."

Meanwhile, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Center is set to open before the end of the year. That center is being built next to the 25-year-old Stirling Recreation Center, which will be demolished in August.

The 18,000-square-foot King Center will have a full-sized gym, a computer room, outdoor courts and classrooms.

"The Stirling Center has more of a neighborhood focus," Gross said. "The people that live close to it are the primary users. The community center pretty much serves the whole city and a lot of the surrounding areas. We have a lot of different programs in both places."

[Last modified May 26, 2004, 01:00:46]

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