Long-awaited rec center opens its doors this week



The anticipation has been building for years.

But with mere days remaining before the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center (EHRC) opens to the public, excitement has reached fever pitch.

Just ask Torrance Archie.

As site manager for the new facility, Archie has been deluged with calls from residents eager to register for programs or book space – or simply asking when the center will open. Archie estimates that “20 to 30 people a day” drop by and try to walk into the center for a look around – despite the “closed” signs on the door.

“We can’t open fast enough,” Archie says.

The outdoor track, which has already opened for use, boasts a regular contingent of walkers – many of whom have switched over from using the Fairfield Middle School track. They are so thrilled with the new venue that workers painting the track’s lanes had trouble getting strollers to budge from their routine long enough for the paint lines
to be applied.

As Archie gave a tour on a recent morning, one walker explained why the rubberized track is so popular.

“The Fairfield track is gravel, and it isn’t level. This is more spongy,” said the woman, adding with a giddy laugh that the new track’s springiness sometimes tempts her to run instead of walk.

“And I’d better be careful because I’m no spring chicken!”

Among other outdoor features on the 24-acre site are a football field – already in use by the Glen Lea Lions -- a walking trail, multi-purpose field, concession building, large shelter and restroom buildings.

But it’s the 25,773 square feet of indoor space that is the focus of residents’ pent-up demand, says Archie.

At the drop of a curtain, the gymnasium can be divided into space for concurrent volleyball and basketball games. At least one recreational basketball league will move its games to the EHRC gymnasium from Fairfield Middle School; other groups planning to use the gym are church leagues, men’s leagues and the Henrico Police Athletic League (PAL).

Other amenities include a separate dance studio, classrooms, conference rooms and Henrico Recreation and Parks’ first fitness center. Starting at $120, annual fees to use the fitness center are within reach for individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford a club membership. Since the fitness center is only open during EHRC operating hours, however, it won’t compete with private fitness clubs.

At the opposite end of the building from the gym and activity spaces is a ballroom that seats 125, opens to a patio, and connects to a full-service kitchen. So it will be possible, Archie points out, for a group to hold a wedding reception or rehearsal dinner in the ballroom at the same time that a noisy basketball game is underway downstairs – and guests will never be the wiser.

“There’s a lot of opportunity and possibility out here. It’s going to be a busy place,” says Archie of the new building, which boasts numerous green features and has been registered, designed, and specified to comply with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. “The community is so excited to have
this, and they feel part of it from the ground up.

“It’s been a long time coming . . . they feel ownership and want to take care of it.”

Archie hopes and expects that the new facility will not only serve as a draw for current participants in Dorey Park, Confederate Hills, Armour House and Hidden Creek programs, but will also bring out nearby residents who have never before participated in Recreation and Parks activities.

“We’re hoping to bring more awareness and get [eastern Henrico residents] to come out more,” Archie says. “We’re hoping we hit a niche . . . and get a whole new contingent.”

Fairfield Supervisor Frank Thornton adds that another contingent he hopes to see benefit from the center is the youth.

Recalling the letter he received a decade ago from a 12-year-old youngster complaining there was "no place for kids to play," he says he could not be more pleased to see a recreation center come to fruition at last. As a child growing up in Richmond, says Thornton, he enjoyed patronizing a boys club, and has been a firm believer in PAL programs and athletic activities ever since.

"It taught me," says Thornton, "that structured recreation can cement a good foundation in character."

The public will be able to get a peek at the new center Oct. 8, when the Henrico County Division of Recreation and Parks will host a “pep rally” style grand opening, ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony. The schedule of events includes tours, fitness demonstrations, children’s activities, and the chance to participate in games of volleyball, basketball and pickleball. Other highlights include visits with local school mascots and demonstrations by the VCU
Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, Richmond Lions Rugby team, and the Richmond Strikers.

Registration for programs and reservations for space, however, will not begin until the EHRC officially opens two days later on Oct. 10.

Judging from the volume of calls and inquiries he has fielded regarding sign-ups, Archie says he expects to find a lengthy line of people waiting when the doors open at 8 a.m. Monday. So many callers have asked him eagerly, “When should I get there -- eight o’clock?” that he now recites a stock answer.

“Please don’t get there at eight,” Archie tells callers. “You’ll be the last person there.”

* * *
The EHRC grand opening will be held Saturday, Oct. 8, from 1 - 4 p.m. at the recreation center on Laburnum Road. A ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony will be held in the gym at 2 p.m. Music will be provided by DJ Manny Green and the Highland Springs High School drumline, and cheers will be performed by the Elko Middle School cheerleaders. Henrico Fire will provide a water wagon, Kids Safety House, rapelling demonstrations, and more. Football fans can cheer on the Glen Lea Lions, and Henrico County will provide information on Recreation and Parks’ programs as well as Henrico’s 400th anniversary.

For details about renting space or registering for programs at EHRC, call 225-2056 or visit http://www.henricorecandparks.com.
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