Community Expresses Support of Building New Winter Haven Recreational & Cultural Center
by James Coulter
The Winter Haven Recreational & Cultural Center needs to be torn down and rebuilt with modern amenities. That was the consensus of both Winter Haven City Staff and the general public at a community input meeting hosted on Thursday evening at the center.
Deputy City Manager T. Michael Stavres and his staff proposed a complete renovation of the main facility, which would involve tearing down the old building and constructing a new one. At 37,000 square feet, the proposed building would be twice the size of the current one (which stands at 20,000 square feet) and will include indoor amenities such as a double gymnasium, fitness center, and library, and outdoor amenities such as a redesigned swimming pool, splash pad, and playground.
T. Michael Stavres began his career with the city at the center as a pool lifeguard in 1985. As someone who has been with the center for a long time, he knows from personal experience that the facility needs to change with the times. He pointed to the peeling paint in the gymnasium and lack of natural light as examples of reasons why it should be rebuilt from scratch.
One notable change would be the swimming pool, which currently reaches the depth of three feet and ten feet on either end. Its deep waters intimidate young children wanting to learn to swim, he said. He proposed a walk-in pool with a splash pad and a renovated playground next door to help better acclimate children to the water.
He also proposed a 17,000 square feet double gymnasium to replace the current 7,000 feet gymnasium, which would better facilitate multiple sports and game activities, as well as serve as a potential event space area. Moreover, the new facility would be fitted with new plumbing, electrical and fire suppression systems, and new gym floor slabs.
Built in 1974, the Winter Haven Cultural & Recreational Center consists of a 7,000 square feet building located on 13,000 square feet of property. Over its nearly 50-year history, the facility has undergone several renovations including swimming pool renovations, ball field enhancements, and the construction of a new playground.
In 2017, city staff identified the need to expand and improve the existing fitness facility areas as a priority. The next year, in 2018, more than $1.5 million in funding were included for fitness center and ADA improvements as part of a multi-year capital improvement plan. Over the next few years, renovations for the recreational center were identified as a priority, both by stakeholders Florence Villa CRA Advisory Committee through community input at public meetings and a community-wide survey.
In response to findings from a feasibility and spatial analysis study conducted by Straughn Trout Architect, the budget for the proposed renovations project was increased from $1.5 million to $5.2 million in 2020, then to $9.8 million in 2021 to help renovate amenities outside of the building, and to $14.12 million in 2022 to adjust for inflation in construction costs.
Another public input session will be hosted on May 26. The public feedback collected from these meetings will then be presented to the city commission during their meeting on June 13. Based on this feedback, the spatial master plan will be refined and will undergo a full design and permitting process for seven to ten months, during which time it will be updated through community engagements. Construction is anticipated to start in early 2023 and take nearly 12 months to complete.
Most of the attendees that evening overwhelmingly supported the proposed reconstruction. However, a few citizens remained attached to the old building and felt that renovations to the existing facility should be considered instead. One person even asked if a new building could be constructed next to the old building. Staves answered that such a move did not make sense.
Many other residents were concerned about where their children would go for their regular activities during the proposed reconstruction. Stavres suggested that the center’s after-school projects be hosted at Rotary Park, while sports-related activities are hosted at Jewett School of the Arts.
Most attendees agreed wholeheartedly that a new facility needed to be constructed. One suggested that a new building could be used as a “golden opportunity” to unite Downtown Winter Haven with the Florence Villa district. Another said that it would be a “disservice” not to give the children of today a new facility that better meets their modern needs.
“Tear it down, build a new one, take a picture [of the old one], [and] put the picture in the new one,” they said.