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    Recreation center project delayed again

    Will the contractor be penalized? The predicted opening of the complex is now pushed back to June.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- The long-awaited opening of the city's new and improved recreation complex will be delayed once again.

    City officials were hoping the $6.3-million project -- which consists of adding a new building while renovating another -- would be finished by May 15.

    Constructing the addition, known as Phase One of the project, should be completed by deadline, said City Manager Frank Edmunds. Phase One includes a gymnasium, racquetball courts, a weight room and locker rooms. But renovating the existing building, Phase Two of the project, will take longer.

    "We're optimistic that it will be completed during the month of June," Edmunds said.

    Phase One originally was slated for completion in January. But before construction even began, workers faced an obstacle.

    "The site had a lot of muck in it so we had to remove it and replace it with clean dirt," said John Bowden, director of operations for Irwin Contracting of St. Petersburg.

    The contractor then predicted both jobs would be finished in May. But blending the two buildings at 9100 113th St. turned out to be a tough job, Bowden said.

    The tough part was blending the new architecture with the old building, Bowden said.

    "It's more than knocking down a wall," he said. "The trick is to make it look like it's not a renovated building but a brand-new building."

    According to Edmunds, the city and architect will meet after the project is done to decide whether the contractor will face financial penalties for delays. The project began in March 2000.

    Bowden said he realizes residents are eager for the 56,700-square-foot building to open. But the delay will be worth it, he said.

    "I'm sure they'll love it because it's going to be a beautiful building," he said.

    Jim Sheets, the city's recreation director, is one of those waiting for the project to finish. Since February, he and his staff have been offering programs out of four portable classrooms and a large multipurpose portable unit.

    "We're just anxious," Sheets said. "We're just ready. Any time they turn us loose, we'll hit the ground running."

    The good news is the delay won't affect the city's summer camp program, Sheets said. The 10-week program, which is open to kindergarteners through fifth-graders, begins June 11.

    Registration for residents began Saturday. It opens to non-residents on April 26.

    About 160 children enrolled in last year's program. Fifty percent of the participants were non-residents.

    Sheets said he is glad the addition will be ready in time for the summer program. "You can do a whole lot more in a gymnasium than in a portable classroom," he said.

    When Phase Two is complete, users will have access to an arts and crafts studio, a dance room, a music studio and a nursery. Seniors will have two rooms, where they can play cards or plan outings.

    Two youth rooms will give students a place to do homework. When they finish, they can play in the game room.

    Outdoor features will include two basketball courts, a playground, a Junior Olympic-size pool and a smaller pool for children. Construction on the pools will begin in September.

    - Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or byrne@sptimes.com.

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