Moorestown's new rec center nearing completion

Posted: January 07, 2014

MOORESTOWN Carved from a high school gymnasium built in 1934, the township recreation center will reopen Monday with a new look and many more programs after a $600,000 renovation.

The three-story red-brick building was shuttered over the summer so the aging gym floor, air-conditioning, and mechanical systems could be upgraded. New offices and a police substation now occupy the upper floors.

After a fire destroyed the Town Hall more than six years ago, officials had considered replacing the recreation center and adjacent town library as part of the rebuilding plan. But after studying several options and their costs, the Township Council decided to upgrade the recreation center and build an $11.1 million town hall with adjoining library.

The town hall/library facility is under construction, with completion targeted for late April, according to Township Manager Scott Carew. The town offices are now in an industrial park.

Township officials are excited about the completion of the first phase of the municipal complex makeover off Second and North Church Streets, Carew said. The recreation center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week starting Monday and will offer a wider variety of sports, arts, and cultural activities, he said.

"Previously, the building was not being utilized to its fullest potential. It was old and dilapidated," he said. "Not only are we putting an investment in the facility itself, but we want to make the rec center a focal point for the community."

Carew said activities for special-needs children would get more attention. There will be basketball, badminton, and weight-lifting sessions, along with yoga, dance, and other classes. Teen dances could be offered on weekends.

Mayor Stacey Jordan said the town put a lot of time, effort, and money into the recreation center, which she said could now offer a range of programs. She said a variety of activities would be offered at different times of day to keep youngsters and adults busy.

As the repairs neared completion, the Township Council discussed charging a $10 membership per child per year but later decided to offer free membership at least for this year.

Next year, Carew said, the council has the option of charging a $10 to $15 membership fee per year but will charge only adults. Traditionally, the recreation center has been free of charge.

Nominal fees may also be assessed for attending certain classes or activities, Carew said.

On the third floor, a police substation will be set up for patrol officers to do paperwork and keep an eye on activities at the recreation center, Carew said.

"We have had some problems in the past with vandalism and fights in the gymnasiums, and we think having officers there will act as a deterrent," he said.

However, the office will not have regular hours and will not be set up for residents to drop in to file reports, he said.

Rick Ragan, an architect with Ragan Associates in Medford, said the biggest improvement at the recreation center was the professional-quality floor that replaces the 80-year-old floor and basketball court. The new court can be adapted for use as a full court or as half courts for young children.

Ragan also said offices were set up on the mezzanine for recreation department staff. Previously, he said, their offices were in Town Hall, and the new setup allows them to better monitor activities on the premises.

The new town hall/library, meanwhile, is on track to be completed in spring, Ragan said. He anticipates work will be done in April, but the building may not open until May. Ragan said he and a committee were undertaking a study to decide what to do about the library building when it is vacated.

Carew said town officials had considered demolishing it and turning it into a park or assigning it for another municipal use.

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

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