Rec Center To Be Demolished

Rec Center To Be Demolished

A totally new Charles Houston Recreation Center due by 2008.

Charles Houston Recreation Center is now scheduled for demolition and replacement by a whole new, modern facility of nearly twice the size. The price tag is also nearly twice the size of the originally planned renovation.

During an Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission public hearing Nov. 17 at the center on Wythe Street, chair, Judy Guse-Noritake announced, "What's going to be on this site is going to be much better."

She added, "This is going to a state-of-the-art facility. This is what City Council has authorized."

Peter Geiling, deputy director, General Services Administration, cautioned the 20-plus residents present, "There is a budget for this project and eventually we are going to have to make choices."

Originally, the plan was to renovate the center, adding a number of facilities and enhance existing ones. That plan, which was publicly unveiled at a previous open meeting in the fall, was projected to cost approximately $4.6 million. Replacing the Center with a totally new facility is estimated to cost between $8.5 and $9 million, according to Mark Jinks, assistant city manager for fiscal and financial affairs.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, City Council requested that Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs staff work with the community on two possible designs for a new one-story Center to replace the 30-year-old building. The purpose of last Thursday's meeting was to initiate that directive.

"We want to hear what you want this new facility to look like. Council has given us a whole new start here," Noritake told the audience.

ARCHITECT GREGORY S. LUKMIRE, of The Lukmire Partnership of Arlington, presented two single story design concepts. The first proposes a linear design fronting on North Patrick Street. It includes an expanded gymnasium, space for seniors' programs, game room, multi-purpose room, expanded weight/fitness room, a library/computer room, craft room, dance studio, and boxing area. It also maintains an outdoor swimming pool.

A second concept is based on an L-shaped design with the building fronting on North Patrick and Wythe streets. It would have all the same elements as the linear design. The pool remains in its present location but would be more visible under this design concept.

Both plans provide for on-site parking. "We are attempting to maintain the same number of spaces as presently exist which is about 45," Lukmire said.

"Our most important consideration is to make the new facility as welcoming and open as possible. We also want it to fit in with the newly emerging Master Plan for this area," he said.

"We are also considering incorporating a green-roof for environmental purposes. We are trying to develop a concept that everyone buys into," he stated.

Construction could begin by late summer or early fall of 2006 with the new facility to be open by 2008, said Geiling. Due to the plans for a totally new building it is anticipated the present center will be closed during construction. Alternate locations are being explored for use during that time, according to officials present.

AS PART OF HIS PRESENTATION, Lukmire displayed a list of all present and planned facilities for the new building giving the amount of space anticipated for each program area. The only existing program shown with a zero space increase was boxing.

This revelation brought forth most of the comments from the audience when Noritake opened the floor for citizen input. Boxing now has an enrollment of 30 children and 15 adults. Program participants also complained that the entrance to the boxing center is next to the dumpster and "one or the other ought to be relocated."

"This program teaches character building and racial tolerance," said one speaker. "It deserves more and better space. It is the only area on the chart that shows no increase. That needs to be changed."

The other concern expressed by several speakers was that there be no attempt to change the name of the Center upon completion of the new facility. "I certainly hope there is no attempt to change the name of this Center," said Dorothy Tucker.

Kirk Kincannon, director, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities, assured Tucker and others that there was no intention of changing the name of the Center. "In fact, the Council has suggested that we look into having a statue created of Charles Houston to be placed at the new Center," Kincannon told the audience.

FOLLOWING THE PUBLIC hearing, the Commission went into its regular meeting in which it discussed the Comprehensive Field Master Plan, got an update on planned activities for the Jamestown 400th Anniversary, and discussed ongoing activities pertaining to parks and recreation.