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Plans for $2 million Westchase gym gets mixed reviews

WESTCHASE — Plans for a new $2 million gymnasium in Westchase drew both praise and criticism Tuesday at a county public hearing.

Traffic and spending topped the list of speakers' concerns, but the majority saw the plan as a boon to the community.

The proposed multipurpose gym would be about 10,000 square feet and expand a recreation facility at 9791 Westchase Drive, next to Westchase Elementary School.

The gym would serve the community as well as remedy the elementary school's after-school program waiting list, which has about 430 students.

Westchase resident Renee Cruz spoke in support of the gym, noting that it would be able to accommodate all the students on the waiting list, as well as benefit residents.

But people who live in the Bridges neighborhood, on the same street as the proposed gym, remain concerned about the impact it will have on an already stressed traffic situation.

"The traffic flow is horrendous. It can take me 15 minutes to get two blocks," said Joyce Bhutta, a mother of two. "I'm all for expansion, but something has to be done about that traffic."

Traffic in the early mornings and after school can be especially problematic. Parking at the elementary school is limited, so parents dropping off and picking up children park along Westchase Drive. Residents in the Bridges must also use that street to exit their community and reach Linebaugh Avenue, Westchase's main thoroughfare.

County officials said a new parking lot, with 40 to 50 spaces, would be built to accommodate the new gymnasium. The school would be able to use the lot as well, said Mark Thornton, director for the county's parks and recreation department.

"We know that traffic is a big issue," Thornton said. "I hope to solve not only our impact, but I'm hoping we can solve some of the coming-to-school and leaving problems, as well."

The gym would have a full basketball court and at least two separate activity rooms, according to preliminary plans. It would be funded by the county's capital improvement budget.

Mike Niemis, a Westchase resident, voiced concern about the price of the facility.

"I feel that in today's economic climate, spending $2 million is not justified in my mind," Niemis said. "I don't think taxpayers should be forced to subsidize day care."

Capital improvement funds can be used only for building projects and cannot be used on operating expenses. Fees generated by the gym would go to pay for staffing, Thornton said.

There is no timeline yet for the project. The county plans to hold more public hearings.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Plans for $2 million Westchase gym gets mixed reviews 03/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 3:12pm]

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