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New Tampa Rec Center plans coming to fruition — finally

NEW TAMPA — After almost 10 years of plans and funding shortages, the expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms is coming to fruition.

The original request for the expansion was set to be for 5,000 square feet, but now the expansion area will total nearly 8,000 square feet and provide more than just extra space for the center.

"About a year and a half ago, we were told that this project was something that could not happen," said City Councilman Luis Viera. "But then New Tampa and North Tampa organized together."

Viera also credits the New Tampa Council and in large part, Tracy Falkowitz and her family.

"If it was not for the Falkowitz family this would not have happened," Viera said. "They are the ones that, as a family effort, brought people to the Tampa City Council in order to lobby to make this thing happen."

FleischmanGarcia Architecture, the firm responsible for the original design of the center, has been working on the expansion project for the past six years and now with a budget of $1.95 million, the expansion is slated to begin in early 2019 and be completed by August of 2019. The years of long waitlists may be a thing of the past for New Tampa residents with the added square footage.

The new building will include a 2,000 square foot multi-purpose room that can be easily divided into two rooms as needed, a 1,500 square foot preschool gym, and 2,000 square foot training box equipped with a garage-style door and outside entrance.

"We're excited, we really love it here," said Pasco County resident, Snehal Shobhashana who drives to the center every week to take her 3 ½- and 6-year-old daughters to their classes. "They're both in the gymnastics class, one is in dance too, and we waited for almost two years to get into the programs, but I really liked it here."

In addition to the added rooms, enough square footage has been allocated to build six new handicap accessible restrooms, including one that will cater to the current outdoor playground.

The main goal of the expansion is to improve the flow pattern within the center, not only allowing more room for students, but creating an opening for new and upper level dance, gymnastics, and even strength training programs.

"I think it will add functions that the community is looking for and needs, functions that the original building didn't have mainly because we didn't have the space and the budget needed to do it at the time," said Kevin Smith, senior vice president for FleishmanGarcia Architecture.

What does this mean for the center during the construction process?

Parks and Recreation promises that none of the current programs will be affected during the construction of the new building and that accommodations will be made in order to avoid any disruptions to the center's traffic flow and parking.

"We're excited for the opportunity to expand the program," said Parks and Recreation Director Paul Dial. "We believe that it's a great program that has a large impact in the city for gymnastics and dance, and this is going to give us that opportunity to bring more kids into the program, plus they'll have access to some other programs and activities as well. That's what it's all about — the kids."

Contact Jennifer Lima at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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