LARGO — A vision for the new Highland Recreation Complex is taking shape.
Early renderings and a site plan of the $15.4 million project were approved this month. And city commissioners will continue to weigh in on designs as they evolve over the next several months.
Pines and palmettos on the wooded site are among the elements that inspired the design by Gould Evans, according to the firm's vice president, John Curran.
The amenities would include a game room, a running track, party rooms, two gymnasiums, two program rooms, two locker rooms, a two-story child's play area, a fitness room and another fitness area with computerized games.
New trails, a new play field and new shelters are also planned for the site at 400 Highland Ave NE.
Most commissioners said they like the direction the firm is taking.
"I think it's a pretty creative design," Mayor Pat Gerard said Tuesday. "I love some of the features they're putting in there."
She specifically favored the firm's intent to incorporate nature and include a climbing feature for children in the project.
City Commissioner Woody Brown also applauded the appearance of the design, but he voiced concerns about some of the amenities.
He questioned the need for a separate locker room for the aquatic center and wanted more information about the path of the running track. He also wanted more feedback about how the flow of patrons would be controlled with limited staff.
The renderings of the complex show strong geometric lines and lots of windows.
"You want the natural light in the building as much as possible, and you want to be able to take advantage of the views," said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert.
Vice Mayor Robert Murray and Commissioner Curtis Holmes expressed concern about the safety and energy efficiency of the numerous windows in the design.
Yes, a hurricane-rated window can withstand heavy winds, Holmes said, but "what will it do with a flying pine tree?"
At about 39,800 square feet, the new facility will be larger than the current 25,000-square-foot complex. Unlike the current facility, the new center will be visible from Highland Avenue. The entire complex will be rebuilt west of the aquatic center, which will be renovated somewhat to mesh with the new design.
The city plans to keep the current facility, which is east of the aquatic center, open during the construction.
Like the new Community Center, funds for the construction will be borrowed and repaid using Penny for Pinellas revenue.
The current complex, which opened in 1972, is the city's oldest recreation center, said Recreation Parks and Arts director Joan Byrne. Over the years, the metal building on a concrete slab has had its share of problems, including flooding, she said.
If everything goes as planned, the city would break ground in October and the complex would be open by the end of 2012, Schubert said.
Times staff writer Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.