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New Highland Recreation Complex will mirror its surroundings

An artist’s rendering shows the new $16.4 million Highland Recreation Complex, which is slated to open in 2013.


An artist’s rendering shows the new $16.4 million Highland Recreation Complex, which is slated to open in 2013.

LARGO — GouldEvans vice president John Curran gets philosophical when he talks about his architectural firm's designs for Largo's new Highland Recreation Complex.

Listen to Curran talk about how the new two-toned brown facility will blend in with its slash pine and palmetto surroundings, and you'll wonder if the groundbreaking will include people sitting cross-legged in circles, singing "Kumbaya."

"Our goal is to create a building that is truly one with its place," Curran said Thursday. The roof and walls are designed to let light pass through, he said, so people walking through the complex should feel like they're walking through the nearby woods.

"Our roof is really, I guess, a metaphor for this notion of canopy," said Curran.

Largo Mayor Pat Gerard is also pumped about the design, but uses less profound terms to describe her excitement.

"I said I wanted the coolest recreation facility in the county, to have bragging rights," Gerard said. "I think it's going to be."

Curran's company updated Gerard and the rest of the City Commission this month on designs for the new complex, which has had a number of proposed price tags over the years, from a high of $23 million a few years ago to $16.4 million at this month's presentation.

Money borrowed against future Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue will fund the project, which has been in the works for years. Construction is scheduled for late this year or early next year, Curran said, with the facility slated to be open by mid 2013.

Krista Pincince, recreation program manager at the complex, echoed Gerard's excitement Thursday as she led a tour of the facility, opened in 1972. Despite its age, the recreation and aquatic center was used by 320,965 people in fiscal 2010, according to Pincince.

"It's amazing how many people continue to use it, as old as it is," Pincince said. "I can't imagine what it will be like in the new facility."

The new complex will offer the same programming in a building that will combine two facilities— the recreation center and the aquatic center — into one, upping the size from 23,000 square feet to 39,000 square feet.

Despite the size increase, Curran says the new building won't need additional staffing, as its design will allow the same number of employees to monitor more space.

There will be plenty more for recreation complex users to do, though.

"It's going to be a wonderful place for the whole family to come to," said Joan Byrne, director of Largo's Recreation, Parks & Arts Department. "There will be something for everybody."

The new facility is slated to include:

• A multipurpose outdoor field large enough for a regulation football field.

• Four tennis courts.

• Two gymnasiums (one wooden and one for multiple activities, including inline skating).

• An indoor game room with arcade games.

• A fitness room four times the size of the current one, with much more equipment.

• An indoor track on the second floor, suspended above the gyms.

"I think it's going to offer some real opportunities that don't exist anywhere else in Pinellas County," Byrne said.

But for Curran, it all comes back to that design. The walls will be 40 percent glass, so the building will glow at night, Curran said. The other 60 percent will be Oko skin, a concrete-panel material that has never been used before in Florida. (GouldEvans has tested Oko skin in Largo, Curran said).

The brown concrete panels will look like wood from a distance, Curran said, and someone walking into the complex's main entrance should be able to see through the building into the woods.

"It's truly influenced by its environment," Curran said of the design. "Not only the physical environment, but everything around it; the sun, the rain … It's going to succeed because it is truly about a place."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or

New Highland Recreation Complex will mirror its surroundings 07/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 4:30am]
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