A Lot Of Miles Left

By Gail Merrill

When the 22,600-square-foot Palm Bay Community Center (PBCC) opened in 1978 in Palm Bay, Fla., it was recognized as offering state-of-the-art amenities and putting the city’s parks and recreation facilities on the map.

However, with hundreds of people using the center each week over all those years, the building began to show its age. In addition to normal wear, extreme temperatures, and moisture, severe storms—including several major hurricanes—have taken their toll on this essential structure. Keeping up with repairs and upgrades, while a constant demand on city resources, is an investment worth making to provide the level of service that residents have come to expect.

“It’s a constant round of painting, replacing, and remodeling to meet the changing needs of the community and our staff,” says Fred Poppe, Director of Parks & Recreation. “With an older building, we know we have to stay ahead of the potential problems in order to avoid bigger problems in the future.”

The Facilities Department, under the directorship of Tom Michaud, oversees repairs, upgrades, and improvements to all of the city’s buildings, including the center. “There is a lot going on at the community center, and we are dealing with some pretty expensive upgrades and repairs that were on hold for several years due to the economy,” he explains. “Now we can start to move forward again and make the necessary improvements.”

For example, three racquetball courts had fallen into disrepair, and funding was not available to make repairs for several years during the recession. In 2014, management was able to adjust the community center’s budget to repair one of the courts and bring racquetball back to the community.  The other two courts are slated for renovations in 2016 to create additional multipurpose space to accommodate classes and activities.

Too Hot To Operate
In summer 2015, the air-conditioning system needed to be replaced. The existing system had failed on several occasions, making it too hot for people to use the community center. “Here in Florida with the heat and humidity, we rely on our AC; you can’t really operate without it,” says Troy Cox, Recreation Division Manager.  The new system was designed in two segments, a setup that offers greater flexibility for managing building temperatures effectively.

The original AC unit, a single 60-ton split DX, has undergone numerous repairs over its 37 years of serving the gymnasium and some adjacent meeting and function rooms The law of diminishing returns made retiring the unit inevitable. The new installation takes advantage of the existing duct work to minimize cost. In addition, instead of relying on a single unit to provide cooling, the design engineer recommended two smaller 30-ton package units, located on opposite sides of the building, to supply existing duct work along the perimeter. This manner of installation minimized downtime and disruption to daily operations while the work wass completed.

The collateral benefits will result in reduced operating and lower energy costs over time. The two separate units will also reduce discomfort because one unit will be able to operate while installation of the second unit is underway. Lastly, if the community center is ever slated to be closed, the units could be disconnected fairly quickly and reused at another facility. Additional energy savings will accrue during the winter months when only one unit is needed to keep the gym cool.

Mezzanine Makeover
The mezzanine area is a popular space for classes and recently underwent a facelift to improve its image. “There were some damaged ceiling tiles that were replaced in the mezzanine area. It sounds pretty mundane, but when you see the difference it makes, you start to look at every little thing and how can we make it look better by painting or replacing it,” says Chuck Belcher, Facilities Supervisor.

 Besides the replacement of the ceiling tiles, the carpet was cleaned and re-stretched, and excess equipment was moved to a storage area. The impact was immediate, and groups using the mezzanine area were delighted by the changes.

Cleaning Out The Clutter
More general housekeeping included a deep cleaning behind two sets of wooden bleachers in the gym. Just like in a home, clutter piles up over the years until one day you realize there’s no storage space, and it’s time for a big cleanup. Storage spaces were purged by getting rid of outdated signs and equipment. This made room for seasonal equipment storage and special-events supplies.

“Sometimes it just means sitting down and taking a fresh look at the space and identifying priority usage,” says Ana Nesbitt, Senior Recreation Leader. “It’s an older building, but still very much in use and fulfilling a need in the community. We want to ensure that people have the best recreation experience possible when they come here.”

Stretching Funds
An upgrade to restrooms and shower areas was another example of the upkeep needed to ensure the PBCC looks and functions at optimal levels. New sinks and toilets were installed in late 2015, and tile floors in the shower areas were refurbished using a unique bonding process that eliminates the need to frequently contract a tile-and-grout-cleaning company. The process is less expensive than a complete re-grouting or replacement, and can be completed with minimal downtime.

“We are always conscious of the budget, how far we can make that money go and how can we get the biggest bang for the buck,” says Jeff Whitehead, Assistant Director of Parks & Recreation. “The community center is critical to our mission of delivering meaningful programs and services to residents. This building has many more years ahead of it. and our job is to keep it running like a well-oiled machine.”

Multipurpose Flooring
The full-size gym is one of the greatest assets at the community center. The 20-year-old synthetic floor was in bad shape, showing its age by peeling and rippling. Poppe quickly sought funding to replace the floor. This upgrade provides a better playing experience for basketball and other activities. The old floor and underlayment were removed, and a new underlayment and synthetic floor were installed. The choice to use synthetic material was based on the types of activities held in the gym. In addition to basketball, Pickle Ball, and dodge ball, many cultural and civic events and trade shows take place in the gym. The floor gives the entire facility a fresh new feel that is very inviting.

On The Outside
Meanwhile, outside improvements included removing outdated brick planters in the courtyard, which opened up the space for better foot traffic and accessibility. The parking lot was restriped in the summer of 2015, improving the appearance and increasing safety. Speed humps were recently added to the road in the front of the building to calm traffic and protect people entering and exiting the PBCC, the library, Graffiti Skate Zone, and Turkey Creek Sanctuary. The short stretch of road, which also runs adjacent to iconic Turkey Creek Sanctuary, has pedestrian traffic and significant turtle and other wildlife crossings, which warranted the steps taken to keep drivers from going over the 25 mph limit.

Repairs to the outside of the building and a fresh paint job, along with new landscaping, were completed in 2016.

A new playground also was constructed on a sitr that was previously unused. The 36- by 66-foot playground is ADA-accessible and features 3,000 square feet of poured-in-place rubber mulch. David Moore, Park Supervisor, is eager to install the giant boulder, climbers, slides, and stepping stones that provide hours of outdoor fun for kids.

One Final Change
On September 17, the Palm Bay Community Center was officially renamed Anthony J. “Tony” Rosa Community Center, in honor of the city’s first parks and recreation director who served from 1968 to 1978; Rosa was the person that prompted the center and opened it prior to his retirement.

Certainly, a building that hosts thousands of people each year at a variety of athletic and community events sees substantial wear and tear by virtue of the types of activities. But it’s what happens inside the walls that makes the effort worthwhile.

Gail Merrill is the former Community Outreach Coordinator for the Parks & Recreation Department in Palm Bay, Fla. Reach her at Gail.Merrill@palmbayflorida.org.