On Saturday, the wait was finally over for many residents who have been anxiously, and patiently, waiting for the opening of Memorial Park Community Center.
The 67,000-square-foot center at 510 Bert St. welcomed the community at 9 a.m. to come in and look around before everything gets under way on Monday.
The schedule of events started with a pancake breakfast with Santa, which was prepared by Chef Richard Erskine of Southeast Culinary and Hospitality College.
“We probably served over 250 people, if not more. We actually had to make more pancake batter this morning, so that’s a good problem to have,” said Amanda Hollified, the center’s operations manager.
The highlighted programs for the opening dominated the festivities, which included crafts for kids, letters to Santa, fitness and exercise demonstrations, as well as sport clinics provided by the Science Hill High School volleyball team and the East Tennessee State University Lady Bucs basketball team.
“I think it was a huge success,” she said. “I know we probably had over a thousand people walk through this building from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It was a great way to start the opening of this building.”
As a Johnson City native, Hollifield said the creation of a community center has been an exciting time, and that visitors to the facility Saturday were in awe after exploring inside.
“I think they were amazed at the size of it. I think they see the outside when they drive by, but until you walk the hallways ... it’s just amazing how large it is and just the different resources and the things you can do,” she said. “I think it might have been a little overwhelming to some of them. We have something from one end of the building to the other end of the building.”
Kelly Finney, the facility’s program coordinator, said she feels those who attended Saturday were interested in many different programs.
“I think everybody’s interested in different areas. Some people are really interested in arts and crafts, so we offer arts and crafts for children ... for seniors. We’re offering a sewing class that’s new and we’re offering Spanish and French classes for all ages,” Finney said.
Other programs that the center will host include Silver Sneakers, yoga, zumba, kickboxing, ballet, hip hop, computer classes, theater and storytelling activities, tennis and swimming.
“We’re really wanting to just keep going forward in January with just offering and building new ideas and new programs to see what the community wants,” Finney said.
Senior Services Director Sue Orr said she was pleased with the grand opening activities and the crowd that came out to participate.
Orr said when classes and activities start up on Monday, seniors will be pleased that not only have the classes and activities not changed too much, but they now have a bigger space in which to meet.
“We’re bringing in new and creative things and fresh ideas,” she said. “Everything is planned to keep people 50-plus active and in the mainstream mentally and physically. When you look at the activities that we have it leads back into that and our vision is ‘active life through active living.’ ”
Hollifield said the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. was special, as U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, former and current city commissioners who worked to get the center going, as well as community members showed up to help mark the opening.
And even though the center will be fully functioning starting at 7 a.m. Monday, Hollified said she and her staff will still be working hard to tweak and make improvements where needed in the years to come.
“This is a new building and we’ve got a plan, but we’re very open to people’s feedback,” she said. “We want to see what we can do to improve on the programs. If there’s a new program out there that’s trending, we definitely want to do the research and see if it’s something we want to bring to Johnson City and to this community center. It’s just exciting. It’s an exciting new adventure I think for this community to take part in.”
For more information about Memorial Park Community Center, call 434-5750 or visit the Johnson City Parks and Recreation website at www.johnsoncitytn.org/parksrec.