Kent County Rec Center construction coming to an end


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The new Kent County Recreation Center will contain two full length basketball courts, three volleyball courts and three pickleball courts when it opens in a few months. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER —– After more than a decade of talk followed by a handful of years for planning, the end game is on the horizon: The Kent County Recreation Center is only 10 short weeks away from completion.

“I first started working for the county 15 years ago and people were talking about it then,” said Jeremy Sheppard, assistant director of Kent County Parks and Recreation.

Moreover, the project is on schedule and within the county’s $10.7 million budget.

Situated off New Burton Road in Dover, land that 16 months ago was a combination of farmland and trees now sports the rec center framework.

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“In early September, EDiS started erecting the steel structure and that took about two months,” Mr. Sheppard said during a recent tour of the site. “Immediately after the steel beams were up, they began working on the roof and everything should be completely enclosed by the end of the month.”

Erecting the building’s skeleton was the most difficult and time consuming part of the project, he said. Since its completion, however, progress has been swift.

In about a week when the enclosure is finished, construction on the interior lobby and gym will get underway.

The Parks and Recreation staff currently working from the county building on Bay Road is scheduled to move to the rec center in mid to late March — once all the interior work is expected to be complete. Employees will have about two weeks to settle in and ensure that all computer systems are up and running properly and system management is working smoothly.

Then, it will be game on.

A dream comes true

The dream of a multi-sport recreational center goes back to the 1990s.

“The vision for this project started back in the 20th century, probably around 1996 or 1997,” said Levy Court President Brooks Banta at the Oct. 29, 2014, groundbreaking.

But it took teamwork to make the dream become a reality.

In 2007, Kent County Levy Court agreed to collaborate with the Boys & Girls Club of Delaware on the project.

The Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club will occupy the west end and the Kent County Recreation Center will occupy the east, with both organizations sharing an entryway and lobby. Total square footage of the building is 62,500 feet.

EDis is working on Kent County’s portion of the building, while Lighthouse Construction, of Magnolia, is building the Boys & Girls Club .

The county’s share will be about $6 million and the Boys & Girls Club’s will be close to $4.5 million, with the latter’s funding being raised in the private sector.

The land itself is part of the Kesselring farm. Jacob Kesselring moved to Delaware from North Dakota and bought 600 acres of farmland south of Dover in 1906.

In 2010, the Kesselrings sold the 140-acre property between Dover and Wyoming to the county for park space and to the Del-Mar-Va Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Already on the property is the 85-acre Akridge Scout Reservation, featuring camping sites, pavilions and a man-made lake.

Dream facilities

Of the 30,000 square feet that is the rec center’s facility, 22,000 square feet will be designated as the playing area while the remaining space will be used for a reception area, offices and a programming desk.

Four new part-time staff will be responsible for scheduling, setting up the gym and keeping the playing area clean.

That playing area will be a busy one since it will accommodate a wide range of sports, including full court basketball, junior tennis, indoor soccer, volleyball and pickleball.

Pickleball is a paddle sport played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.

Pickleball may seem like a strange sport to have dedicated space and markings in the new rec center but Mr. Sheppard said the sport already has a large following and is expected to keep growing in popularity.

“There are actually a couple large clubs in Milford and Sussex County that we’ve been in contact with,” he said. “A lot of pickleball players are older and they pay taxes just like everyone else so we need to make sure they have access to a top-notch facility so they too can have a premier sporting experience.”

Lines for each of the sports will be permanently marked on the floor with small tick marks and it will be up to the staff to lay the full lines — made from a removable tape — when necessary.

“We only have the permanent tick marks to use as a guideline because it would be too confusing and too messy looking if we had permanent lines for four or five sports all in the same area,” Mr. Sheppard said.

Sports like basketball, pickleball, tennis and volleyball will use in-ground supports to hold up the hoops and nets, leaving the playing surface smooth once they are down.

Different sports will be able to take place simultaneously since the court will be separated by curtain dividers.

Arriving from the lobby, players and spectators will walk into the gym down a middle corridor that divides the gym down the center. Three rows of movable bleachers to accommodate about 500 spectators typically will be situated in the corridor.

“They can be easily moved so if we have a large event, or just need the center of the gym clear, we just have to lift up the court dividers and push the bleachers up against the wall or wherever else we need them,” Mr. Sheppard said.

Athletes and spectators will get their first look at the gym in early April when the county’s spring recreational programming begins.

The Parks and Recreation department plans on starting slowly with indoor programming at the center, hosting groups for junior tennis (ages 12 and younger), soccer, pickleball and daytime group fitness classes like yoga and zumba.

The spring brochure with an activity schedule should arrive in the mailboxes of Kent County residents in the coming weeks.

All of the scheduling kinks haven’t been ironed out yet, but Mr. Sheppard said indoor gym space will first and foremost be designated for the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club and county-scheduled programming.

“The Boys & Girls Club is our partner in this whole project so their needs are what we will be considering first,” Mr. Sheppard said. “But there are times when space will be available to teams and the public, but how that works hasn’t been totally worked out yet.”

The outdoor experience

The sporting experience of the Kent County Recreation Center doesn’t end with the walls of the gym. Just behind the facility will be a $700,000 multipurpose artificial turf field.

The field will be marked for football, soccer and lacrosse. It also can be used for field hockey.

Bleachers will seat about 200 spectators, but additional space will be available for people to bring their own chairs.

Already up are the stadium lights that will allow for after-dark play.

Beside the field is a completed public restroom so outdoor athletes and spectators won’t have to use the center.

The restroom has an attached concession stand not run by the county but which can be utilized by sports teams and coordinators wishing to sell concessions.

An eye to the future

The county has about 25 additional acres of empty land to the south of the building. A turf field will be graded and seeded, allowing for additional outdoor grass playing fields if needed.

Mr. Sheppard said early estimations show about five more multipurpose fields could fit in the open space.

The only major sports the outdoor space can’t accommodate are softball and baseball. Mr. Sheppard estimated designing and building a baseball field would cost about $75,000 per field.

Spending that much seemed ill-advised since Dover’s Schutte Park with its four softball fields is just a couple of miles away.

The design also takes in future parking needs. Rocks were laid just below the dirt under a portion of the extra land to allow for overflow parking without damaging the grass field.

“There is plenty of parking surrounding the building, but who knows? If we have a huge event, it might not be enough so we need to have a plan if there are more cars than the lot can accommodate,” Mr. Sheppard said.

Aside from the extra space on the south end of the gym, there also is extra land near a maintenance building to the east of the gym, which could allow for a future expansion of or addition to the gym if needed.

Access to the center also will get a boost in early 2017 when the West Dover Connector will be complete.

The road will cut past the rec center, allowing traffic to bypass downtown Camden or Wyoming.

Once the road is complete, visitors will have the option of using New Burton Road, U.S. 13 or West Dover Connector to reach the facility.

“It’s going to be a really neat, accessible area, especially once the connector is done, but that’s still about a year out,” Mr. Sheppard said.

A lot needs to be completed in the next 10 weeks but Mr. Sheppard is optimistic.

Things are running on schedule, he said, and Parks and Recreation will have a Plan B in case an unexpected problem like heavy snow holds up progress.

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