ST. PETERSBURG — It's no fluke that the city's recreation centers lack fitness equipment and exercise rooms, having ceded this turf to the Golds Gyms, YMCAs and the Lifestyle Family Fitnesses of the world.
When Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, city officials realized they couldn't meet the new law's requirements when it came to existing fitness centers. The rooms had free weights, but no machines, so the facilities couldn't be used by disabled people.
"Instead of putting a lot of money into it, we decided that wasn't the business we were in," said Rick Craft, the city's recreation manager.
That's going to change in January, when construction is scheduled to begin on the expansion of the Childs Park Recreation Center at 1227 43rd St. S. The project will include two rooms for weight training and exercise, making it the first city recreation center to add a fitness center since they were removed in the 1990s.
The $1.15 million project will be paid for with the Penny for Pinellas sales tax money.
"I think it's fantastic," said Brenda Nelson, president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association. "We have so many people who are into fitness, but everybody has to go to the other side of town to work out in one of the clubs. And it's expensive."
It will only cost an annual $10 registration fee to work out, Craft said.
The project will include adding a sprinkler system, more energy-efficient lights, and a kitchen.
"A lot of the businesses and people who rent rooms at our recreation centers do it for birthday parties and anniversaries," Craft said. "But there's no kitchen at Childs Park, so we wanted one there."
It won't be a cooking kitchen, Craft said, but it will allow for cold storage and heat preparation of food.
Along with the extension of the Pinellas Trail through the Childs Park neighborhood and an at-risk program at Fairmount Elementary, the recreation center's expansion is part of a larger concept to improve the quality of life for children in one of the most economically depressed areas of the city.
Sherry McBee, the city's parks and recreation director, is modeling the city's approach in Childs Park partly on the Harlem Children's Zone, a project that covers 100 blocks in New York City and serves more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults with a range of support services and amenities meant to improve quality of life.
One example is the planned kitchen. It's bigger than other kitchens in recreation centers so instructors will have the space to teach classes on nutrition, McBee said. The kitchen and fitness centers are meant to improve lives, she said.
"When you're working late, and it's hot out, and you're a single mom, the odds are against you that you'll have the disposable income and time to join a fitness center," McBee said. "The fitness center and the kitchen are little pieces. But taken together, they can make a difference."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org