Houston Rec Center Upgrade Unveiled

Houston Rec Center Upgrade Unveiled

What will happen to the current activities at Charles Hamilton Houston Recreation Center when it undergoes massive renovations or possible replacement?

That was the primary question raised last Thursday night by citizens attending the first public hearing unveiling a variety of concepts under consideration by Alexandria's Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities to upgrade and expand the center at 901 Wythe St.

"If the building is demolished, we will definitely have to have an alternative site while construction is underway. What is the point when we will have to decide to move forward?" asked Mayor William D. Euille in kicking off the public response to the presentation by The Lukmire Partnership, consultants to the department.

"We can not answer that at this time because we are not sure what is going to be done until we have a true scope of the project," said Peter Geiling, deputy director, Alexandria Department of General Services, under who's aegis the revitalization would take place.

"This meeting was to get feedback from the public to make sure we're including all the programs. We came away feeling the community was very excited about the project," Geiling said.

Three options were presented:

* Renovate and expand the existing center;

* Construct a new one-story center; and

* Construct a new two-story center.

Each of the new construction options contained two variations pertaining to the location of various facilities as well as the location and size of a future parking lot.

"One of the critical elements is how much parking is required and where should that parking be located," said Greg Lukmire, of the Arlington based architectural/engineering firm.

Depending on the site plan, parking spaces to be provided range from 50 to 90. There location also varies. Three plans show the parking abutting North Alfred Street and one has it abutting Wythe Street.

Some of the suggestions made by those in attendance included:

* Inclusion of a computer room and library

* The need for both children and adult activity rooms

* Inclusion of a large community room for public meetings

* Consideration of an indoor pool that can be used year round

"There is no target date to get under way but we are hoping to get the project under design by this fall. There will be another public meeting in early September before the Parks and Recreation Commission," Geiling said. "We are also planning to hold other public input meetings."

The project must go through the city Planning Commission's special use permit process as well as consideration by the Parker Gray Board of Architectural Review and finally City Council. The Department of Planning and Zoning is part of the project steering committee.

The present center was dedicated in 1977. However, the site has historical significance in that it once contained the Parker Gray School which was later named Charles Houston School, for a noted legal counsel to the National Association of Colored People.

According to the presentation last Thursday, bid and construction of the project is projected for late summer of 2006. Completion date would depend on which option is chosen.