By Nancy Vigran
Special to the Sun-Gazette
WOODLAKE – It has been a year in building, five years in planning and longer in the anticipation. And without any possible hiccups, in mid-August, Woodlake’s Community Center will open.
Five years ago, the city council and city staff started actively discussing the need for a facility to be utilized by all age groups, from children to seniors. Property was required in order to qualify for a USDA loan to build such a facility. The Woodlake Lions Club donated the needed piece of property, which it owned, located on North Magnolia Street.
Demolition of an old building was facilitated, and construction of the center was started last August. The center follows in the city’s Spanish mission architecture, and was designed by The Taylor Group Architects in Fresno, said Ramon Lara, Woodlake city manager. The estimated building cost is nearly $4 million, with $3 million coming through a 40-year loan for which the city reportedly has already set aside funds to repay.
The 12,000-square foot building has a full kitchen, a full gym, council chambers, and a couple of multipurpose rooms. The center is designed for a variety of uses, for a variety of ages.
“There has been a need for this for a lot of years,” said Jeff Johnson, chairman of the Citizen’s Oversight Committee.
The gymnasium has retractable basketball nets and can be converted to allow for volleyball and indoor soccer. The flooring will be conducive for indoor sports and proper lighting has been installed.
With the kitchen, the seniors’ lunch program will move to the center along with other recreational activities including bingo, arts and crafts, and various workshops aimed with this age group in mind.
The city council will receive new chambers with a removable dais and moveable seating to allow for other uses of the room. There is a dropdown screen allowing for projections, and a neighboring overflow room if any particular council meeting is especially well attended. The new council chambers will allow the former chambers at city hall to be converted for much needed city use, Lara said.
The tower, designed as a landmark and easily spotted as the tallest structure in town at 63½ feet tall, at the bottom also serves as a ticket booth.
Previously, the city has gone without a parks and recreation department and currently, that department’s staff consists of Lara and city community development director Jason Waters in addition to their other duties. The city is working with Boys and Girls Club of the Sequoias to see about bringing a club, even in a limited capacity, into Woodlake. With this, and at this point in time, only a part-time parks and recreation employee would be needed. Otherwise, a full-time director may be required, and perhaps additional staffing, as well. Either way, some direction would be considered from the Oversight Committee.
“I feel like the city has really listened to the community as of late,” said Johnson, who is also the high school varsity football coach. “Indoor basketball, volleyball and soccer, along with the field improvements of Castle Rock, I think, will be getting a lot of kids off of their cell phones and into physical activity. There’s been a need for this for a lot of years.”
But, it is also great for the rest of the community as well, he added, including the capability for senior programs. “Everything will be an improvement from the past. Sometimes we tend to forget the older generation, but we must not forget our seniors.”