Springfield recreation center opens

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(Host) Monday’s winter weather did not prevent the long-awaited opening of Springfield’s Southern Vermont Recreation Center.

VPR’s Susan Keese was at poolside for the first splash.

Sounds of kids voices and splashing)

(Keese) It was kids only’ in the pool on Martin Luther King Day. And despite the daunting weather, lots of families took advantage of the chance for a free look at the first phase of the newly opened center.

Christian Craig is the Recreation Center’s executive director.

(Craig) "As you can see there is a lot of activity, a lot of smiling faces. I think they’re pretty happy and we hope that this will become a place where kids can come to live healthy lifestyles to enjoy a lifelong activity like swimming."

(Keese) The $5.2 million pool and fitness complex is phase one of a regional recreation center that’s been in the works for almost a decade.

When Springfield voters agreed to host a new prison in town, the state threw in $3 million for a civic improvement project. The rec. center proposal was twice approved by voters.

The project has seen its share of delays and cost overruns. Early on its backers decided to use the state’s $3 million as endowment and raise the money to build the center.

(George Lamb) "It was a process that just took longer than we had anticipated and longer than we hoped for. But we’ve hung in there and we’ve kept our eye on the ball and been very focused and it’s just very gratifying to see all these happy youngsters in the pool."

(Keese) The center includes three pools: a competition-sized lap pool and a gently sloping pool for younger children.

There’s also a warm-water pool for aquatic rehab and therapy. Craig, the director, says the center is about to sign agreement with Springfield hospital, to staff and utilize the therapy pool.

Craig says the center will soon have software that will enable members to set and track personal fitness goals. The center is also working with employers in the region to partially subsidize memberships as part of employee health benefits.

(Craig) "One of the keys to making a facility like this work is collaboration. And it’s key to have the community invest not only dollars but also materials and time. All of those will make this thing successful."

(Keese) Former state Senator Edgar May, a main supporter of the project, says he’s been amazed at the community input so far. A woman from Cavendish donated money to install what May says is the largest solar array in Vermont. The panels will partially heat the pools.

(May) "One logger who spent almost a week in the woods chopping 400 hemlock trees that we got donated put it very well. He said you know, this is like an old fashioned Vermont barn raising."

(Keese) May says there’s still a lot more money to be raised to convert an old adjacent foundry building into the center’s next phase.

But he says the center is a symbol of hope for the economically battered machine-tool region. And he believes the hope is well-founded.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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