The crumbling, termite-eaten Police Athletic League building of more than 60 years has been replaced with a new $4.2 million facility.
The 25,000-square-foot building at 1924 W. Diana St. has a gymnasium, classrooms, game room, conference room and more. It was dedicated recently in a ceremony attended by community leaders and many children in the program.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said the old building “was the only gym in town where we got rained out at a basketball game.”
PAL started to raise money about eight year years ago to refurbish the complex. The work also included improving the athletic fields’ infrastructure of lights and irrigation and a new concession stand, said Police Athletic League executive director Phil Ray.
Part of the money was from the Tampa Police Department’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is from confiscated funds and equipment, Castor said.
“Money used to fuel drug trade is now used to fuel children’s lives,” Castor said.
PAL serves children ages 5 to 16, many from low-income, single family homes. (Seventeen year olds can attend as mentors to the younger students.)
Among those is Dennis Miller, 17, who has attended for five years and spoke at the dedication.
“I couldn’t afford to come but through a grant, I was able,” Miller said. “There are father figures who tell me how to be a good man in life.”
Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, who served as the program’s emcee, said organizations such as PAL help youth develop socially, they learn to play together and are taught to respect law enforcement.
“This is critical to this community,” Ober said.
Ray said there are several activities at PAL each day.
“For example, last month we had our after-school program 73 children, 70 soccer players, 65, football players, 75 basketball players and 15 cheerleaders,” he said. “Since we have moved into the new building our athletic department has exploded.”
Following the ceremony, guests were led by youths on a tour.
Kyle Knauer, 17, beamed as he told guests: “It was a one-story little kung-fu place. This is a giant upgrade.”
Funding also came from local community leaders Susan and John Sykes, Chuck Sykes and Sykes Enterprises as well as a community development block grant and the fundraising efforts of PAL, Ray said.
“I also want to say, there were numerous donations over the years from the entire Tampa Bay community that also contributed to offset the cost of this building,” Ray said.
Throughout the tour, signs pointed to items yet to be funded – including lockers and weight room equipment.
Ray said he hopes organizations or individuals will help with those items. They also can help sponsor after-school or summer programs or participate in the fourth annual Officer Randy Davis Memorial Golf Tournament on April12 at Pebble Creek Golf Club.