New recreation facility in limbo

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Marty Gordon
Contributing writer

The current Blacksburg recreation center is over 40 years old and is showing signs of aging.
The town is hoping to reach an agreement with the county to purchase the former Blacksburg High School site, located across the street on Patrick Henry Drive, where they could build a new much larger facility.

Over 120,000 people went through the doors of the Blacksburg Recreation Center this past year, and the facility is literally bursting at the seams from the use.

The current facility on Patrick Henry Drive is over 40 years old, and there are signs of an aging facility that is getting hard to keep up with.

Dean Crane, the director of Blacksburg Parks and Recreation, said the town offers the most programs in the Montgomery County/Radford, Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas, but has the smallest facility.

“It’s tough for residents and staff to keep working under the current overcrowdedness. We need more space,” he said.

Breaking down the numbers, the use is even more staggering for a 42,000 square foot facility. Crane said more than 350 people use the facility daily and over 10,000 per month.

“We lack (basketball) court space, and we also do not have a walking track or other activity areas that facilities in Radford and Christiansburg have, and we have a larger population to serve,” he said.

When visitors come to the current facility, they start to see how the building has aged. Older bleachers need to be replaced and a wooden gym floor has impressions from over 40 years of ball bouncing and games. The floor has been replaced and resurfaced, but it still is overused. There are also tape measures on the wall to monitor cracks that started to appear seven years ago.

Residents seem to just scratch their heads when they watch a game with a standing room only crowd. They are also worried about the fate of the building that has cracks and broken concrete throughout the facility.

But even with cracks that stretch from the floor to the ceiling, a building official said there is nothing to be concerned about. Cathy Cook said her department continues to monitor the cracks.

“They have not gotten any wider over the past year,” she said.

The aging facility was built by the same company that constructed the old Blacksburg High School that sits directly across the street, and its gym roof collapsed 10 years ago due to structural problems.

According to Cook, there are no problems with the building, and it’s not a danger to the public. Although, she has inspected the building on a regular basis and agrees it’s aging. For more than seven years, Blacksburg officials have looked for enough property to locate a facility that could serve as additional recreation space.

“There is really not enough land for us to consider anywhere in the town,” Crane said.

But he doesn’t have to look far for a possible solution that is now at the middle of a debate between county supervisors and town council.

“One of the only spots that would fit into any future plans is directly across the street at the former Blacksburg High School site.”

That has been the ongoing discussion at both council and supervisor meetings for the last few months. Approximately 30 acres sit along Patrick Henry Drive, and the county has placed “for sale” signs on both sides of the parcel.

Blacksburg has offered just over $2.75 million while the county is asking for $3 million, plus the buyer footing the cost of demolition (estimated to be an additional $1.5 million). Right now, the two parties are at a stalemate.

Three years ago, ProsConsulting presented the results of a public study that requested more recreation facilities in the town. Residents asked for larger fitness areas and locker rooms. They also would like to see more basketball courts and a walking track.

Currently, the center simply does not allow enough space for the facility to host any tournaments for the recreation department. But an agreement with the Montgomery County School Board allows them to use the two elementary schools in town.

The recreation director would like to see more activities under one roof. Crane said the former BHS site offers a campus setting for the town’s current park, aquatics center and recreation building.

The proposal calls for a new 65,000 square foot gymnasium with additional playing fields and an expansion of the current aquatics center.

“There initially was two more phases planned for the aquatics center, and they were never funded or done,” Crane said.

According to a 2013 article from the News Messenger, the cost for a new gymnasium was over $20 million and with current rising construction costs that mark could now top $28 million. The complex was discussed in several preliminary meetings in those early years as town staff waited to see what the county would do with the former high school site. Crane concluded that there is no plan B.

“We are in limbo, and I don’t know what is going to happen. It’s sad that the citizens are the ones that are losing in all of this,” he said.

Even with a quick purchase agreement with the county, the earliest Blacksburg residents could see any new facility is four years. But Crane is doubtful for that type of fast track. “We are looking way down the road while our current facility continues to age.”

For now, his staff tries to make do with a facility that might not be able to handle many more problems.