North Richland Hills breaks ground for new rec center

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Twelve years after planning for a new recreation center commenced, the city has moved past the conceptual and into reality.

The as-yet-unnamed 86,000-square-foot facility in the HomeTown NRH area dwarfs any municipal project in the city's 57-year history, in size and cost. Construction on the $25 million center began in recent days and is scheduled for completion in spring 2012.

The project has been on the wish list of North Richland Hills through three mayors, many city staff members and close to a generation of residents, but a dramatic slowdown in development in the last decade complicated the city's plans to finance the construction.

On Thursday, many of those leaders showed up at the site to relish the groundbreaking moment.

"It's been a long time coming," said Mayor Oscar Trevino, who took office in 2002. "This is the next step in improving the quality of life in our community."

Although the facility will be primarily a recreation center, it will also include a senior center, banquet facility and outdoor plaza as part of the city's plan to create a "civic core" where one doesn't exist.

The 10-acre site, bought from a landscaping company last year, is near the library, NYTEX Sports Centre, Walker Creek Elementary School, Birdville High School and the planned Tarrant County College performing arts center.

"The city, from north to south, east to west, is not that big," Trevino said. "By giving people a state-of-the-art facility and a big plaza, we hope that wherever they are in the city they will come to this facility."

The details

The building, designed by Brinkley Sargent Architects in Dallas, will be brick and stone with significant portions of the north entrance sheathed in glass. Officials expect the building to earn the silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Byrne Construction will be the general contractor.

Construction will cost a maximum of $20.9 million, but after including architectural fees, furnishings, equipment and other costs, the tally runs to $25 million.

About $4.1 million of that will come from the city's half-cent sales tax dedicated to the parks department. The rest will come from issuing certificates of obligation and be paid back over 17 years through the city's second tax increment financing district in the HomeTown area.

The new center will replace the existing one, a former church at Loop 820 and Rufe Snow Drive, which has been in use since 1987. It needed to be replaced soon because the addition of new lanes on the loop will take away most of its parking. But as far back as the mid-1990s, residents already wanted a change.

The building's fitness center was cramped, showers and locker rooms tiny, and overall impression a bit low-end. The contrast with commercial fitness centers and new municipal centers, such as Keller's, became more pronounced every year.

"The citizens have been asking for a new center for years, and a lot of thought and planning went into making this what they wanted," said Tito Rodriguez, vice chairman of the parks board.

What it will offer

Among the features of the new center:

A fitness center with machines and weights that is more than three times as large as the existing facility and has flat-screen TVs that people can watch during workouts.

A one-eighth-mile track on the second floor to let walkers and joggers look down on the gyms and other areas.

A natatorium that will have lap lanes, a resistance channel, a shallow play area for young children, a slide and a rock-climbing wall allowing people to jump into the water, as well as adjacent birthday party rooms.

Two full-court gyms.

A senior center that will consolidate activities of the two small existing centers.

A 300-person banquet facility with a second-floor outdoor terrace, which city officials hope will generate revenue from groups needing meeting space.

An annual membership now costs a North Richland Hills resident roughly $100 a year, a number that is guaranteed to rise when the new center opens. Additional employees will have to be hired for the center, and the operating costs will increase with the larger space.

The exact pricing structure likely won't be established before next summer, said Vickie Loftice, managing director of community services, which oversees the parks department. The city has set a goal of recouping 75 percent of the operational costs through fees and memberships.

"We might have some anxiety from 'Now that we are building it, will they come?'" Loftice said. "But we're fairly confident that this facility will generate a lot of interest. We received so much public input that we feel we're presenting the facility the citizens wanted."

Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547