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If DeLand’s Parks and Recreation Director Rick Hall has his druthers, the city will build a sizable new recreation center sooner rather than later.

DeLand has hired CPH Engineers Inc. and has hosted two public meetings to come up with a plan for the complex, which could be built on 13 acres along the west side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway, north of Taylor Road.

The developers of Victoria Park donated the acreage to the city in 2005 as agreements for the sprawling development were negotiated. The site fronts a Victoria Park conservation easement. 

“It was set aside to be a recreation site,” Hall told The Beacon in a phone interview.

In addition to acres of playing field and other space for outdoor activities — even a swimming pool — the conceptual plan includes a 35,000-square-foot, multistory recreation center with a gymnasium, indoor track, aerobics room, dance studio, full-size basketball courts, exercise-training equipment, areas for children’s play and games, a locker room, an atrium gathering space, meeting rooms, a warming kitchen, concession area and office space for parks and recreation staff.

Hall talked about the plan at the first public meeting June 6 in the Sanborn Activity Center at Earl Brown Park in DeLand.

In recent years, Hall said, DeLand has experienced substantial enough growth to make the facility necessary.

The newly renovated Chisholm Center is not big enough to accommodate current teams and members, much less any new sports opportunities residents might want. 

For example, pickleball.

“Pickleball is a huge, huge craze right now,” Hall said. 

“We have grown as a department tremendously over the last three, four, five years,” he said. “We want to continue to grow and, again, provide that proper service for our community.”

The city’s soccer program has increased from 120 to 750 participants, Hall said, and the youth basketball roster has escalated from 100 to 550.

“We don’t have sufficient space to grow that program any more,” he said.

The city entered into an agreement with DeLand High School that exchanged the school’s use of Melching Field for the city’s use of the old high-school gymnasium for basketball.

But recent flooding in the old gym has rendered it insufficient, Hall said.     

Though Hall said the public meetings were not platforms for him to “do the final sale of this project,” he did cite other benefits of building the rec center, including positive effects on tourism and real-estate values.

In fact, the parks and recreation staff distributed a three-and-a-half page document filled with positives. 

“If we build this correctly, we can host tournaments and bring people into the community to stay in hotels, eat Downtown and buy gas,” Hall said. 

As host city of the NCAA Baseball Tournament the first weekend in June, DeLand received “throngs of people downtown Friday night,” and realized “tremendous economic impact,” according to early feedback, he said. 

Those attending the rec-center meeting completed questionnaires, ranking their activity preferences for three areas outdoors, and ranking the potential amenities inside. 

Hall also mentioned that he and his assistant director, Chad Rhodes, visited — and liked — the City of Alachua’s new $7.5 million recreation facility.

“It’s very impressive,” Hall said.

Before completing a master plan for a DeLand center, engineers for CPH also will scope out Alachua’s center. 

DeLand resident Christine Bennington said she is fully in favor of building the center, but would like the city to consider higher fees for nonresidents, since DeLand residents will likely foot the bill or most of it through their property taxes.

“That’s my money, my tax dollars. … That’s a lot of money, a lot of pennies, sir,” Bennington told Hall. 

He assured the project will not be undertaken without “a lot of decisions” — including decisions about fees — made by the DeLand City Commission.

“The trend is for municipalities to have a membership fee for recreation,” he said. “That does help with operating expenses.”

Hall said if the City Commission votes to go forward, the project could take two to three years from design and permitting to final build. Depending on what other capital projects are approved by the City Commission, it could take longer.

“My selfish goal, personally, I would like to see it in the next few years,” he said. “The commission understands it’s a need.”

Hall recalled that in building its Sanborn Activity Center at Earl Brown Park, the city overcame the temptation to cut corners, and that has paid dividends.

“This is crazy busy,” he said, referring to the Activity Center. “Trust me, if we expanded this facility, we would fill it still.”

If Hall has his way, DeLand’s rec center will be designed for the future, not just today’s needs.

“We want to design this so we don’t date ourselves,” Hall said. “We don’t want to have to turn around and design this again because we missed out on something.”

He added, “Since 1960, we’ve never had a true recreation center.” 

Hall hosted a second public meeting for Victoria Park residents June 13.

CPH will present a summary of public feedback to city commissioners at the Monday, July 2, meeting of the DeLand City Commission. 

“We’ll see where we go from there,” Hall told The Beacon.

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