Plant City looked to the future early Wednesday morning as approximately 80 people gathered to break ground for the new community center.
It’s a dream some wondered if they would ever see come to fruition. In November the aging MLK Community Center was demolished and commissioners spoke of the approximately 30,000-square foot facility that would rise from its ashes.
Then on February 21 the city was faced with a blunt reality check. The most responsible bidder, Trias Construction, was $2.5 million over budget, bringing the total estimated cost to $5,959,715. No one was prepared for such an inflated estimate. A shortage of skilled labor and rising materials cost played a key role in the high final bids. Commissioners were faced with a tough decision: Start from scratch, reduce the size of the project or go forward as planned.
All of the commissioners agreed even though they were blindsided, the community deserved the center it had been promised. They unanimously agreed to continue. Flash forward two months and members of the community proved yesterday morning their decision was on the mark.
“I think this is a very important, momentous occasion for our community, not just the project that is going to take shape behind me,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “You know if you think about it, this is a very exciting day when you consider that really this all started with the adversity of Hurricane Irma. It put us in a situation where we had to evaluate the building that used to be here and figure out a path forward. Going from the adversity of Irma to the promise today of the project that will rise out of the ground behind me. This is going to be a first-class structure. Jack (Holland) talked about this is a construction project the scale of which is unlike many we have done in the city.”
The mood Wednesday morning was one of anticipation and relief. When commissioners and community leaders shoved the metal tips of their shovels into the dirt they tossed the tribulations of the past year firmly behind them. It may have been a rocky road, but the center is officially on its way and its future looks bright.
The proposed gymnasium in the facility will have two full courts and four cross-courts, which will be perfect for games and events. There will be enough room for scheduled league play as well as drop-in play and setups for volleyball and pickleball.
Much like the former facility, there will also be a computer zone, kitchen, classrooms and craft room. Added will be an office for staff and security and a check-in desk. Room will be left on the property so if more funding comes in down the road they will have the option to add other amenities like outdoor basketball courts, a splash pad or an outdoor playground.
“Do you feel proud today?” Mayor Rick Lott asked the gathered community members. “I think we all feel proud today. I’m proud of our city, aren’t you? I’m proud of our community. I’m proud of the unwavering support that all of us have had toward this particular project. Today is the groundbreaking ceremony for a magnificent building, something that doesn’t really reside anywhere in our community, anywhere in our city. It can be a one of a kind product. But what I’m really more proud about is this is an example of your commission and your city’s unwavering support for strong families in Plant City. It’s not just a building, it’s the programing and the product and the opportunity for people to grow and for families to grow in our community.”
Commissioner Mary Mathis shared some of her memories of growing up in the doors of the former MLK Recreation Center. Students at Marshall High School had taken classes there, teenagers and young adults attended weekend dances in its rooms following football games. The future, she said, is even brighter as the city will bring to life a state-of-the-art facility that will have endless possibilities for the community.
“We’ve got to preserve the past, but we’ve got to embrace the future,” Mathis said. “I want to bring something up that has been coming up. People have been asking. We say ‘the community center,’ there’s no name that’s attached to it yet. But I’m looking at something greater than the building, I’m looking at this entire complex.”
While nothing is set in stone, Mathis said she would like to one day see the facility named the Dr. Martin Luther King Recreational Complex. The facility is still set to be completed in in May 2020 with a ribbon cutting in June 2020.