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Rec center remodel culminates with open house

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By Stephen Knapp

After more than eight months of screaming power tools, bewildering clutter and choking dust, the Evergreen Recreation Center is officially new and improved.

“It’s just an open-ended open house,” explained Pat Callahan, deputy director of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District. “We just wanted to give everyone a chance to come in and look it over.”

All day Monday, visitors to Evergreen’s original sweat palace were treated to colorful balloons and streamers, hot and cold beverages, a tempting assortment of snacks, and the priceless convenience of entering and leaving through the front door.

“It’s nice to come in the main entrance again,” laughed Conifer resident Anne Jones, holding the door for her two daughters, 5-year-old Chelsea and 3-year-old Autumn, whose hands were full of pink balloons. “It turned out very nice. I especially like the tile.”

The tile is nice — an attractive, textured, slate-y material — but that ain’t the half of it. Among other engaging improvements, the facility now features two family locker rooms, neatly refurbished conference and dry locker rooms, and a dedicated nursery where parents can deposit their little ’uns while they work out. And, of course, acres of fresh paint and miles of new carpeting give the entire building an exhilarating new-rec-center smell.

“I’m glad they decided to give it a little face-lift,” smiled Ann Dam-Johnson, a longtime area resident who teaches Nia in the center’s dance room. “I think it’s beautiful. It’s much brighter, happier, cheerier.”

Speaking of brighter, happier, cheerier, ERC’s most striking new feature is its soaring new lobby, a spacious precinct of stained wood and glass where any number of young athletes can comfortably and safely await their ride without overwhelming the reception desk.

“Anybody who comes in today gets a chance at a free 10-punch activity card,” said Callahan, chatting with guests in front of one of the foyer’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “And if they’ve never been here before, we’ll give them a free pass.”

Of EPRD’s three 2005 bond issue projects begun last spring, the Marshdale sporting fields opened for business in September, Stagecoach Park came into its own in mid-October, and the ERC remodel finished third, coming in nearly on schedule and within its projected $1.5 million budget. But if Monday’s casual howdy-do semi-formally signaled the completion of EPRD’s major capital projects, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more improvements in the works.

“We’re still planning to resurface the gymnasium floor and paint aquatics and gymnastics,” said Kendra Hinkson, the district’s building supervisor. “And by fall we hope to push out the back wall of the weight room and add a 1,000-square-foot free-weight area. We’ll probably open that up for bids in the spring.”

Not included in the original renovation budget, the plan to expand the building south stems from the local racquetball contingent’s successful effort to preserve both of ERC’s racquetball courts, one of which was very nearly sacrificed to the increasingly busy weight room. Early estimates peg the cost of such an expansion at between $175,000 and $200,000.

None of that made the slightest difference to 6-year-old Sophie Sabol or her little sister Sasha, 2. The two Indian Hills girls found the snack table infinitely more engrossing.

“Blueberry muffins are my favorite,” said Sophie, with some force. To prove it, the young ERC swimmer munched on a blueberry muffin like an otter scooping out a mussel.

“I think it’s been redone really well,” said their mom, Shari, who passed on both the muffins and the Dixie cups full of cheesy Goldfish. “It looks like new, but it’s not overdone. A lot of recreation centers are, you know, too big, too much. But this still has a nice, comfortable feel. I really like it.”