Rec Center awaits floor, grand opening
Last updated 7/5/2022 at 8:02pm
The City of Orange's much anticipated grand opening of the new Recreation Center has developed a late-stage hiccup.
The massive temperature control system has to get the humidity just right inside the 17,200-square-foot building before the rubberized floor can be installed.
The last-minute snag is frustrating.
"The city hasn't had an organized recreation program since 1993," says James Lawrence, Parks Director for the city. "I think the challenge we're going to face is getting everybody in."
The rubber court flooring will be gray with white lines and orange accents. Orange and green will be the color scheme for the logo on the center jump circles on each of the two basketball courts.
The baskets can be adjusted from a regulation 10 feet high down to 8 feet for younger players.
When not in use for basketball, the building is big enough for four volleyball courts.
A mesh wall drops from the Rec Center's roof to divide the two ends of the huge 144-foot by 120-foot playing surface.
Lawrence and Anthony Dandridge, the city's recreation director, envision forming city leagues for both basketball and volleyball competition in the evenings and booking weekend tournaments.
"We definitely want to start getting tournaments in here," Lawrence said while leading a recent tour.
"But we can't start booking until we know when we're going to be open."
Even the hours of operation will be adjustable, depending on the demand.
"We're thinking we'll open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. until we break it in," Lawrence said. "We'll see how it's going to work and what the demand is."
In addition to basketball and volleyball, citizens have inquired about adult fitness classes and open gym in the morning for seniors.
"We're getting questions about table tennis, too," Dandridge said.
At 1405 West Orange Ave., the Rec Center replaces the Orange Natatorium, which had been a city landmark and hot-weather refuge since the 1970s.
But the Natatorium was expensive to maintain and even more difficult to staff in recent years. A shortage of lifeguards meant it was unable to open for much of its final three summers.
The City of Orange came up with the idea to replace the indoor pool with an indoor Recreation Center in 2018.
The new building cost $3.1 million, according to the city. Initial estimate was $2.9 million.
"You'd have spent more money and time fixing that pool than we'd ever spend on this building," Lawrence said.
During a budget planning session in 2018, with the city facing a shortfall created by a decrease in tax values caused by Hurricane Harvey, council members were unanimous in telling then-City Manager Shawn Oubre to trim $155,000 of spending for pool maintenance and operations from the 2019 budget.
Jim Wolf, public works director at the time, said major expenses such as replacement of the pool's plumbing, pumps and heater would be needed in coming years.
The decision then was to "mothball" the natatorium for a year.
Mayor Larry Spears Jr. proposed repurposing the building by filling in the pool and keeping the outer structure.
"How many years have we heard this city needs a recreation center?" Spears asked after a tour of the Natatorium for council members and reporters. "This is a recreation center, if we just put some money into it."
The mayor pointed out the new center could also be used to stage emergency management operations during a hurricane or other disaster.
It turned out the entire structure had to be replaced and the concrete foundation had to be repoured, with 25 feet added to accommodate the side-by-side basketball courts.
The money for the project that began with demolition of the natatorium in 2019 came from $8 million in bonds council had earmarked for road repairs and "quality of life" projects.
Earlier in the budget talks for Fiscal Year 2018, a baseball/softball complex was deemed less needed than road repairs and a pavilion at the Orange Boat Ramp that became Riverside Pavilion.