Inside the new Highland Recreation Complex, the laughter of children can be heard coming from high above.
There's a three-story-high honeycomb of play spaces, all foam padding and primary colors. The highlight is a sliding tube that corkscrews all the way down from the top.
Up a staircase, there's an electronic exercise room loaded with high-tech dance floors and other flashy gadgets. Around the corner, a state-of-the-art fitness center looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Just in time for summer vacation, the new Highland rec center opens this week. The public is invited to tour the place from noon to 5 p.m. today. It opens for business Monday, with classes and programs kicking off June 10.
Make no mistake, the $17.3 million complex is intended to be another crown jewel in Largo's parks system.
"There isn't anything else like this in the state of Florida. This is going to set the standard," said Joan Byrne, the city's recreation, parks and arts director.
The complex is at 400 Highland Ave., just north of East Bay Drive in the middle of the city. It's on the west side of the Highland Family Aquatic Center, which has been refurbished to mesh with the new complex's design. The pool now has family changing rooms and more shade structures around it.
The new recreation center replaces a 40-year-old metal building on a concrete slab behind the aquatic center. The old rec center is being torn down to make way for a parking lot and a multipurpose athletic field.
Although the new complex has a lot of features, probably the most attention-getting aspect will be the electronic exercise room. The roughly 850-square-foot room cost nearly $90,000 to outfit and is dedicated to "active gaming" — video games that require exercise.
"The object is to get the kids so into the game that they forget they're actually getting some exercise," Byrne said. "Working out doesn't have to be a drudge."
The staffed "exerplay" room will have a capacity of 25 people. It will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
It will cost $5 per day to use the room with a Largo recreation membership card, or $6 without a card. A card costs $10 per year for city residents or $59 for nonresidents.
Among the gadgets in the room:
• A Lightspace Floor and Lightspace Wall, tiled contraptions programmed with games where players step on or touch different lighted tiles in patterns.
• Xbox 360 with Kinect, a video game system with sensors that make "you the controller," as the advertisements say. Participants stand in front of a 60-inch TV and move around to play sports games or dance.
• Konami Classroom Edition set of 24 mats. The mats are like individual Lightspace Floors and are used to play the popular "Dance Dance Revolution" video game, among others.
Meanwhile, the complex's three-story-high padded play area, which is called "playworld," can accommodate up to 126 kids. "It ends up looking like an ant colony," Byrne said. Playing on the apparatus costs $3 with a Largo rec card or $4 without a card.
The rec center also has tennis courts, classrooms, an indoor track, two gymnasiums and a room stocked with old-school games like air hockey, foosball and Skee-Ball.
The complex's $17.3 million cost is being paid for through the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. That includes about $14.35 million for construction, $1.9 million on the architecture and design, and $850,000 on new furnishings, landscaping and relocation of the skate park, which will be reassembled at the Bayhead Complex on Seminole Boulevard.
The 40,000-square-foot building is wrapped in Oko Skin, a fiber-reinforced concrete-panel material that looks like wood from a distance.
"This is the only place it's being used in the entire state of Florida," said Lisa Mudano, project coordinator for Creative Contractors, which built the complex.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.