Johnson City's Memorial Park Community Center set for September opening; cafe plans in the works

Gary B. Gray • Jul 16, 2012 at 6:45 AM

Knoxville’s Rentenbach Constructors has been slowed by cold and muddy conditions, and officials hoped the new $15 million, 67,000-square-foot Memorial Park Community Center would have opened its doors by now, but progress is being made for what looks now like a grand opening around Labor Day.

Ground was first broken in October 2010. Since that time, community members have eyed the roomy structure with anticipation. To seniors, youngsters, ballroom dancers, billiards players, yoga lovers, swimmers and basketball fanatics: the delay likely will be worth the wait.

With each successive walkthrough, the center, inside and out, appears a bit more impressive. But the latest development has nothing to do with aerobic activity, unless you consider eating a workout.

Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department Director Roger Blakeley has initiated a search for a professional outfit to operate a full-blown cafe in the center’s dining room. Bids are out for a service that potentially would operate the facility’s kitchen, prepare a variety of meals six days a week, cater selected meals for events at the center and have at the ready everything from salads to cheeseburgers for the entire community.

“We’re looking for someone that can do something for everybody in the community,” Blakeley said. “I’d really like to have a company come in and take care of it. If that does not work, we’ll do it ourselves. I’d really like to have a culinary school. They could do lunch plates, run the kitchen and cater events. We could have a cafe in the dining area. There’s so much room there. We can be very flexible.” And that is an example of how things are shaping up at the new center. It was designed for flexibility.

The gymnasium alone is capable of housing various types of activities and events, and it is equipped to do so simultaneously. The floor is down and ready for final finishing. Stadium seating for hundreds has been installed at the far ends of the gym which, at the touch of a remote control, extend forward. Four new scoreboards have arrived and will be installed above the gym’s two full courts and eight half courts.

All the hydraulics and other materials to support the 75-footlong lap pool, splash pool and teaching pool have been installed. An off-white colored tile will be set around the large area, and finishers will come in near the end of the job to put the final coatings on the pool surfaces.

All showers are almost finished and lockers are in place, and one of two exercise rooms is being fitted with television sets.

“Rentenbach is saying they can complete the interior by the end of this month, and they expect to complete the exterior by mid-August,” said Randy Christiansen, a project manager for Johnson City’s Burleson Construction, the city’s construction agent. “With an adjusted schedule because of winter delays, they’re still not in a stage where they would be responsible for paying liquidation damages (past deadline). The main focus was to get the building under roof, and that obviously delayed work on the exterior.”

Work continues on the four outdoor tennis courts, including installation of light poles and curbing. Workers also are constructing a “bio-retention” area around the tennis courts that will filter storm water before it is dumped into the city’s system.

The tennis courts were one of two alternatives in the bid. The other is the terrazzo-style floors that stretch across the main corridors and all hallway floors and some other areas. Workers have laid protective materials over these areas for now.

Two entrances, the recreation entrance to the south and the general or main foyer near the drive up/drop off area are nearing completion. The recreation entrance is closer to the pool area and gymnasium. The main foyer has a parquet floor and a circular information desk with two gas log fireplaces reaching from the floor to the ceiling on either side.

Kiosks will be placed at both areas and will provide community members with displays and lists of events and functions.

Meanwhile, the healing garden, an outdoor area adjacent to the dining room is being prepared with coated steel benches. This area will be heavily landscaped, as will the area in front of the center.

From the healing garden or tennis court area, a good portion of what is known as the center’s Phase III can be viewed. The City Commission awarded a nearly $1.4 million contract last month to Johnson City’s C&T Construction to develop the Memorial Park Community Center’s Main Street component.

The move creates a plaza honoring veterans with the famous Doughboy as its centerpiece, as well as concrete walkways and other amenities. Construction also will include an amphitheater accessible from the plaza, lots of green space and wrought iron fencing and concrete walkways that guide visitors not only around the park but also to and from its features.

Grading work has given shape to what will become a 400-seat public amphitheater.

The base bid for Phase III includes an entrance off Main Street that would accentuate the statue. The plaza would broaden out and run from there all the way to Bert Street. There also will be a walking track around the campus.

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