Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

New Orange Rec Center opens for play

For the past weeks while at work, Anthony Dandridge sometimes looks at the glass door and sees the faces of 12-year-olds peering inside like it's Christmas secret.

Well, Christmas arrived early this year. It's ready. The Orange Recreation Center is open for play Wednesday after the obligatory ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m.

A dress code, or more accurately, a shoe code, is required, at all times, even during the ribbon-cutting tour. Absolutely no hard-sole shoes, cleats, or heels will be allowed. Rubber soles, like tennis shoes only. Those special floors that took so long to wait will be as protected as old-time coaches protected a newly-waxed basketball court.

The rec center has room for volleyball and basketball courts. Dandridge, who was hired by the city as the full-time recreation director, said at this time, those will be the only sports available. People, including kids, will be able to come in to play around, get pick-up games, or practice their skills. The recreation center will have all the equipment needed.

He said the beginning open hours will be Mondays through Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be open on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate the popularity of high school football.

Schedules will change in January, but those schedules will be up to the public.

"Once we get everyone in and see what people want, then we will know" what programs to have, said James Ingram, interim city public works director, who oversees the Parks and Recreation Department.

The future may include aerobics or other exercise classes, or times during the day to attract senior citizens to have activities. The rec center does not have meeting rooms, though groups in the future will be able to reserve a court for a fee.

Dandridge said the center will likely begin to take reservations to groups like youth sports teams to use. Ingram said the city is currently working on a computer program to allow online reservations.

At this time, group fees and reservation fees have not been set. The rec center is free for all people living in the Orange city limits. Those living outside the city limits will be assessed a $5 per day fee. City taxpayer money has paid for the new center and is paying for recreation employees and the center's operations.

The city paid for the recreation center with $8 million in certificates of obligation, a type of loan bonds that can be issued without a voter election. The Orange City Council approved the bonds in 2018 after a previous 20-year-old similar loan was paid off. The city manager at the time said the new loan payments could be paid without a tax increase because the old loan was paid.

The council allocated more than half of that money for street repairs and improvements. Other projects include the Riverside Pavilion off Simmons Drive.

The new recreation center is at the site of the former Orange Natatorium, which was demolished to make room for the new building. The city council agreed the Olympic-size pool inside the natatorium needed too many repairs to be feasible to fix.

Before the natatorium, the site was where a USO Hall was built at the beginning of World War II and the live oak trees that were planted 80 years ago for the USO now surround the rec center with shade.


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