Recreation expanding

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2006

JACKSON – Imagine a place where the whole family can go to have fun.

A place where the oldest daughter can play in a softball tournament, the middle boy can go swimming, and the youngest can enjoy herself on a playground; where the grandfather can get in a walk on a track, and parents can go to see a play.

Northampton County plans to build such a place with the Northampton Wellness and Cultural Arts Center.

&uot;A place like this, the whole family could come and have something to do,&uot; James Roberts, the director of the Northampton County Recreation Department, said.

Plans currently call for 40 acres of land to be used for the Center. The land will be divided into playing fields, recreational facilities, and buildings to house the cultural arts part of the Center.

Playing fields and recreational facilities will include four softball fields, a walking track around the fields, a baseball field, a soccer/football field, a concession stand and a playground.

Also planned are two outdoor basketball fields, six tennis courts, a gymnasium with weight and aerobics rooms, a basketball court, locker rooms and showers, an indoor pool, and possibly an outdoor pool. All the fields will be lighted.

The cultural arts buildings will house a 480 seat auditorium with removable seats and a collapsible stage, the offices of the Recreation Department with multipurpose rooms and a kitchen with a walk-in refrigerator, a museum, the library, and a music room.

The building plan is divided into several stages and the first stage includes the auditorium and some of the playing fields.

Phase One construction, scheduled to begin by December, will encompass at least 18,085 square feet and possibly as much as 22,495 square feet.

Once construction begins the first phase should be completed in approximately 12 months. All four phases may take five to eight years.

The Northampton County Commissioners and Roberts kicked the idea of a Center around for awhile, but a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture helped bring the project into reality.

The commissioners also created Northampton Recreation and Cultural Arts, Incorporated, a nonprofit group, to help raise funds for the Center.

&uot;Northampton Recreation and Cultural Arts, Incorporated will help raise money and get citizens involved,&uot; Roberts said.

Currently, the recreation department uses school facilities and only offers recreation leagues for youths.

The Center will provide a single location enabling the department to expand its leagues and offer activities to adults and senior citizens without dropping any of the current leagues.

&uot;We have nothing centralized for recreation,&uot; Roberts said.

&uot;Now we just do [programs for ages] four to fifteen.

All we had to use was school facilities.

&uot;With the Center we’ll be able to run our own schedule and have programs for everyone from youth to senior citizens,&uot; he added. &uot; We’re just trying to open up our recreation for everybody.&uot;

The leagues require fees of their members, but once the Center opens anyone will be able to use the facilities between organized programs.

The recreation department, which includes Roberts and Collin Sneed,

planned for safety as well as fun.

&uot;Swimming pools will have lifeguards,&uot; Roberts said.

&uot;We’ll have lights everywhere.

We’ll try to get deputies on regular patrol.

Most of our staff will be certified in first aid and CPR, and we’ll have a gym manager.&uot;

The cultural arts will also be represented.

&uot;The main purpose of the auditorium is to offer cultural programs,&uot; Roberts said.

Plays, concerts, or other cultural programs will be offered in the auditorium.

Eventually the Center will have a music room, museum, and library.

The multipurpose rooms will be designed for various cultural programs.

The construction and eventual operation of the Center will require construction workers, Recreation Department staff, and maintenance crews but the benefits to Northampton County go further than the creation of jobs.

The Center could attract businessmen with families to the area because it will provide many recreational and cultural programs.

The Center will be a gathering place for community members.

The Center will also provide a safe place to play sports and exercise.

The Northampton Wellness and Community Arts Center promises to become the most fun 40 acres in Northampton County.