A long-awaited gymnasium that will allow for expanded programs at the Westchase Recreation Center is scheduled to open in September of next year.
Scores of residents, community leaders and children from the recreation center's summer program joined Hillsborough County officials at a July 12 groundbreaking for the 10,000-square-foot gym next to Westchase Elementary School.
The $2 million project is funded through Community Investment Tax revenue.
"Parks are very important for bringing communities together, and I don't think there is a better example in all Hillsborough County than right here in Westchase," said Ken Hagan, chairman of the county commission, at the ceremony.
"Some of life's greatest lessons are learned right here on the playground," said Hagan, who grew up in nearby Carrollwood and once worked as an assistant director at a Hillsborough park.
Westchase Park opened in 2005, and almost immediately reached its capacity of 450 children for after-school and summer programs. The gym first was put in the county budget in 2008.
Speakers at the ceremony included community advocate Reinier Cruz. "Without his unwavering support, this project would not have been approved," Hagan said of Cruz, who began lobbying for the gym four years ago as the county battled budget deficits.
The project is more than it seems, Cruz told the group. "To me, it's not a gymnasium. … It's a future leadership center" where children learn conflict resolution and other life lessons under the tutelage of coaches and instructors, he said.
"At the end of the day, it's an investment in the kids," some of whom will return as adults and repay the investment the county made in them, said Cruz, a Westchase resident since 1998.