At both ends of an indoor basketball court, more than 20 teens divided up for pick-up games and a few one-on-one challenges.
In another room, Feeding America Tampa Bay provided hot meals for a dozen or so children at its Kid’s Café. In a classroom in the Virginia Rivers Creative Arts Studio, more children used crayons and paper to make Mother’s Day cards.
On Tuesday, Eric Steward, 12, was among the basketball crowd at Springhill Park Community Center, at 1000 Eskimo Ave. Before last year he usually went to an older facility — the George Bartholomew North Tampa Center and Playground — about a half-mile away on 12th Street.
The Bartholomew Center continues to function with a teen center, fitness room and seniors club.
Steward prefers the new center.
“It’s a bigger gym. It has a better computer lab. It has more activities,” he said. “I just like it.”
The community center’s first year of operation, however, has included a few challenges. Some people are frustrated that the center does not have a fitness room or a game room. And more activities are needed at the art studio, they say.
“We want to use the new center as much as we can,” said Janis Harden, senior club secretary. The group of about 25 active seniors initially began meeting at Springhill but switched to Bartholomew. “We want to be on the exercise equipment,” Harden said. “We have the gym over here.”
This fall, some seniors plan to take computer lessons at Springhill.
The center initially didn’t seem to have enough activities. “It was quiet,” said Joseph Robinson, president of the Sulphur Springs Action League. But in the future, he said, “I think we will see benefits.”
The action league moved its meetings from Bartholomew to Springhill. “It would be great if they had a game room because not everybody plays basketball,” said Norma Robinson, the league’s treasurer. A Sulphur Springs teenager donated a piano to the center and Robinson hopes piano lessons can be offered.
“These past few months have really been great with a lot of activities. … It’s coming around,” she said.
Area residents waited a long time for the facility. For decades there was only a park in the midst of “Spring Hill,” one of Tampa’s oldest black neighborhoods. Lucious Glymph was the park’s first manager when it was little more than an open field. Glymph stored bats and balls at his home.
Nearly 10 years ago, at the start of Mayor Pam Iorio’s administration, an early request from residents was for a community center at Spring Hill. In May of last year a ribbon-cutting was held for the approximately $2.5 million building.
The center has a gymnasium that can be converted into a theater with a stage, a multipurpose room, a computer room, a kitchen with an outdoor service window and the creative arts studio. A glass mobile sculpture by Seminole Heights’ artist Susan Gott hangs in the atrium.
Outside there are ball fields, sidewalks and Florida-native landscaping. An electronic playground has interactive play toys with sound and lights, a rock climbing wall and a splash pad.
The center can be rented for birthday parties, church functions, family reunions and other events.
Children choose from a range of programs offered through the city’s parks and recreation department as well as from staff members with the Boys & Girls Club. Feeding America Tampa Bay and other nonprofit groups also support the center.
Sulphur Springs is the focus of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA’s Neighborhood of Promise initiative which is a coalition of civic leaders, school officials and nonprofits. The focus is on providing activities and life skills to children from birth through teen years.
Springhill, the Bartholomew center and Layla’s House are part of that initiative.
“We’re trying to give the kids a circle,” said Harold Hart, Springhills’ supervisor. “It’s (Springhill) serving the community all the way around.”
Nearly 200 children are registered at Springhill’s facility, most come from Sulphur Springs Elementary School, Sligh and Van Buren middle schools and Chamberlain High School.
Jadiah Dawson, 10, joined in pick-up basketball with the boys. She wants to play professionally, just like Lebron James. “I get to work on my jump shots,” she said, and she also gets help with homework: “You have to have good grades to play basketball.”