CLEARWATER — The Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy is planning a new 30-acre multisport complex complete with paintball and possibly a batting cage at the former Countryside Golf and Learning Center across from the public course and school.
Earlier this year, the academy's board got the driving range property back from a company that had leased it for the past 14 years.
"It's taken a very good piece of property that's just been sitting there and we are turning it into one of the best learning centers in the Southeast,'' said PGA Tour instructor Richard Hall, who teaches at the academy.
The academy and golf course are at 3030 N McMullen-Booth Road, and the sports complex is across the street at 2987 McMullen-Booth.
The news of the two-year, $500,000 expansion comes as the facility prepares to mark its 30th anniversary in the fall. Rodriguez, the PGA golf star for whom the facility is named, is expected to travel from his home in Puerto Rico to attend a celebration Nov. 15-16.
"We're going to have lots of things for families in the future, including a volleyball court, covered pavilion and miniature golf,'' said Cary Stiff, senior vice president of the academy. "All of those things are in the draft of the master plan.''
Plans call for a new restaurant, a rebuilt pro shop and the renovation of more than 13,000 square feet of the grass tee area of the 50-bay driving range and illumination for night golfing.
Some bays will be protected by a 100-foot movable cover shot canopy.
"It's 18,000 pounds and covers 15 bays,'' Stiff said. "It keeps the sun off you.''
The $65,000 cover, donated by a benefactor, also will protect the grass.
A new practice area for golfers is scheduled to be completed within a month and a half. It will feature new putting surfaces, two new greens and three new sand traps.
The area will be open to both at-risk boys and girls in fourth through eighth grades who attend the academy as well as anyone who wants to improve his or her game.
The 3-acre outdoor paintball range should be open by October.
The academy also is evaluating the possibility of adding a seven-station batting cage to the complex, according to Stiff.
The Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation runs the academy, the 140-acre public golf course and the sports complex. Proceeds support children's programs.
The academy programs now serve more than 1,000 children a year. Stiff said she expects to be able to expand that number with the renovated sports complex.
She also said summer camps and after-school programs are expected to more than double in size.
When the project is finished, "the public will have a vastly improved recreation area,'' said Fred Whaley, a member of the board and the executive committee.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.