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    New rec center will be late for summer campers

    An opening is planned for August; meanwhile, the campers will use portable classrooms.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 7, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Wondering when the new Seminole Recreation Complex will open?

    Good question.

    After numerous deadlines have come and gone, city officials now expect a grand opening sometime in August.

    That's quite a delay, considering earlier projections had the first phase of the project -- a gymnasium, weight room, racquetball courts and offices -- opening nearly a year ago. The renovation of the existing building, which now houses an auditorium, game room, music and dance studios, meeting rooms and kitchen, was scheduled to be done by May 2001.

    City Manager Frank Edmunds said it would have been nice to have the 56,700-square-foot complex ready for the city's summer camp program, which begins Monday. But he said such a massive undertaking takes time.

    "I'd rather not rush the project through and have a facility that is not constructed to our standards," he said. He said the city and the contractor, Irwin Contracting of St. Petersburg, plan to meet at the completion of the project to discuss whether the company would pay sanctions.

    Workers broke ground on the $6.1-million project in March 2000. Their goal: construct a new building and blend it with an existing one so it looks like one facility.

    That job turned out to be tougher than expected.

    John Bowden, director of operations for Irwin Contracting, said in April that the blending of the two buildings presented challenges that extended the project. He also said the project took longer to get off the ground because workers had a lot of muck to remove from the site.

    Bowden did not return phone calls Wednesday.

    Council member Patricia Hartstein agrees with Edmunds' stand on the project.

    "I'd rather have a quality project at the end than compromise our standards," she said. "From what we've seen so far, the difference is night and day. We're just looking forward to the opening."

    The original recreation center, a former church and school, was built in 1977. With its dirty exterior walls and chipped interior paint, the building was rather dreary.

    Today, white walls sparkle and sunlight shines through the atrium's windows. The gym's wooden floor is ready for its shiny gloss. And blue tiles cover the floor in the locker rooms.

    Other features of the project at 9100 113th St. include a game room, two outdoor basketball courts, a playground, a Junior Olympic size pool and a smaller pool for children. Construction on the pools will begin in the fall.

    In September 1999, voters approved construction of a new recreation center by a wide margin. Less than 7 percent of the city's then 6,911 registered voters cast ballots, but almost 80 percent of those who did wanted the new recreation center. The referendum passed 375 to 97.

    With or without a gymnasium, Recreation Director Jim Sheets is gearing up for summer camp. Since February, he has been offering programs out of two portable classrooms provided by the contractor. Six more classrooms will be set up this week to accommodate the 200 campers.

    The children also will be able to play on a refurbished athletic field, which opened in October.

    "We're excited. We know it's coming," Sheets said of the opening. "But right now, my main focus is to provide a safe, fun camp for the kids."

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